Trademark vs Copyright vs Patent


Starting out with a great idea probably means you don’t have much more to your name but that concept rattling around in the heads of you and your co-founders. That may not seem like much to you, but remember that if you post about it without having protected your Intellectual Property (IP), a more established (and wealthier) entity could take that idea and make it theirs without any legal protection against it. That’ll be a big regret down the line if that idea becomes a household name. It’s just not worth missing out.

Protect your IP by applying for copyrights, trademarks and patents on everything from your logos to your physical products. Here’s how each is defined:

  • Trademark: a phrase, design concept or symbol that differentiates the source of goods from one entity to another. I.e. Nike and adidas both make t-shirts but trademarks on the names and logos are what separate them.

Trademarks in Australia last 10 years and can be renewed indefinitely. Registration ensures no other entity uses your name, logo or design or anything considered similar to it without your consent.

  • Patent: a property right on an invention. It’s essentially a trademark for something tangible like manufactured articles, machines, manufacturing processes and chemical compositions. I.e. Nike and adidas both make t-shirts with moisture-wicking, drying and cooling technologies, but Nike patents the technology in Dri-FIT clothing whereas adidas patents Climachill technology under the principle that each are different in their processes.

A patent prevents any other entity from creating, using or selling what you’ve invented for 20 years. The process of getting a patent approved is long and costly as it requires the government delegating your invention to a relevant department to decide whether it’s new and useful. As such, its important that these ideas aren’t shared in this process as it could lead to the time and money spent being wasted. Patents must be applied for in every country the product is intended to be sold in.

  • Copyright: protects publications like art, books, movies and songs as well as computer software and architecture. I.e. Nike and adidas would copyright their respective advertisements in print, broadcast or online so that they aren’t copied or redistributed without consent.

Copyrighting only protects the way an idea is expressed, not the idea itself. There is no registration system for copyrighting. Rather, it is automatic as soon as something has been put into publication (print, broadcast, etc.).


Hopefully, the definitions provided have clarified any confusions surrounding these understandably similar terms. We also hope the examples given have helped make them practical definitions that are easily remembered. Let us know if there’s anything you’d like to see researched, defined, collated and explained!