Patent vs Copyright: The Difference Between These Forms of IPR

Patent vs Copyright: The Difference Between These Forms of IPR

Every original creation needs to be protected under IPR- be it a patent or a copyright. Here are their differences.

The difference between patent and copyright stems from the nature of the creation that is to be protected under IPR. To understand this difference, let’s take a look at the first point of contact the average person has with new innovations – the TV. For example, when you’re watching a film on the television and the commercial break starts, you come across a range of new products which perhaps did not exist a decade ago. When the movie starts again, the actors break into a song and dance sequence. Although these are common instances, if you stop to think about it, you end up seeing new products, hearing new songs and watching a written script develop into a film – within a span of minutes. This is proof that we’re living in an innovation-driven world. And while everyone can use the products you see in the commercials and sing the songs in the movies, only some people get credit for them. How the creators’ rights for both of these are protected is where patents and copyrights come in.  To understand this better, let’s take a look at the difference between patent and copyright.

What is a patent?

A patent is a legal document or a certificate given to inventors for creating something new and innovative. It is a form of intellectual property rights or IPR. An innovator with a novel idea can protect their idea by applying for a patent. The patent law encourages innovation while enabling inventors to gain an exclusive monopoly and commercial benefits over their invention. Patents are typically given for technological advances, new inventions, useful processes, machines, compositions of matter, manufactures or improvements to existing designs and creations. The evolution from the traditional telephone to internet-enabled mobile phones with cameras, gaming ability, touchscreen, etc., is an example of a patent improvement. Patents are generally categorised into three types – utility, design and plant patents. However, it should be noted that in India, you can only file for design patents currently. If you wish to file a utility or plant patent, you can do so in countries such as Australia, Germany, France, China, UAE, etc.

CopyrightWhat is a copyright?

The term copyright is typically used in the context of literary creations. It is essentially a collection of rights you automatically get upon creating an original work of literature, writing a song, or a computer program etc. Like patents, copyrights are also a form of intellectual property rights. Copyright laws are not only limited to the creation as a standalone but as an entity i.e. to the individuals who commission or pay the creator – for instance, a lyricist is paid by a film producer to write the songs and (as per new copyright rules) the copyright of the same is shared by the lyricist as well as the film’s producers. Copyright includes the rights to reproduce the literary creations, to publish and distribute copies, to perform and display the work on a public platform and even to prepare derivate works. Under copyright law, you can safeguard and transfer your creations individually or collectively by licensing your creations and then assigning them or transferring them. Copyrights are transferred through a transfer agreement, which enables the owner of the copyright to transfer their copyrights to another party. Copyright laws enable you to decide the way your work can be made available in the public domain.

What is the difference between patents and copyrights?

Having understood what patents and copyrights entail as separate entities, let us deep-dive, into the points of difference between these two types of IPR.

    1. Security
      The primary point of difference between patent and copyright is the security afforded to innovative and literary creations. While the patent secures inventions which are useful to the world in general and which have some definite use (a new pharmaceutical invention, for instance), the copyright affords security to creative and intellectual creations.
    2. The laws protecting copyrights and patents
      While patents are protected under the Patent Act of 1970, copyrights are governed and may be secured under the Copyright Act of 1957.
    3. Types of protection afforded
      Another point of difference between patents and copyrights  is the type of protection afforded to each. The patent law protects inventions which are original, novel and have industrial utility value. Copyrights, on the other hand, protect original works of creative expression such as artistic works, literary works, dramatic works etc.
    4. The validity of patents vs copyrights
      Patents are typically valid for 20 years, beginning on the day of filing the patent application. In contrast, copyrights are valid throughout the creator’s lifetime and for another 60 years post their death.
    5. Reach and protection
      A patent is typically a territorial right. This means that if you file a patent in India, it is valid only within the Indian Territory. If you wish to protect your innovation on a larger scale, you can file for international patents in each country where you wish to protect your invention. The same does not apply to copyrights as protection is automatically afforded to literary creations. So if a musician attempts to plagiarize a tune created by another musician in another territory without buying the rights to it, the latter can sue the former for copyright violation.
    6. Time taken for copyrights vs patent rights to come to effect
      It takes about 2 to 3 years to get an invention patented, after due research confirms the invention to be innovative, unique and useful. However, inventors have the right to stop others from claiming any rights over their design (which is in the process of being granted a patent) from the time the patent application is filed. For copyrights owners, the process is far more relaxed since the copyright comes into effect the moment the literary creation is born.
    7. The provisional application clause
      Provisional applicability is another point of patent vs copyright difference. Since designs and utilities are more complex to specify, inventors can file a provisional application which gets them 12 months to improvise and complete their invention. They must file for a patent with complete specifications within this time. This is not required of copyright owners, and so the provisional application clause does not apply to them.

    Patent vs copyrights – the intersection

  1. Patent vs copyrights – the intersection
    While there are several points of difference between patents and copyright, there can be some creations wherein the two forms of IPR may intersect. For instance, many computer programs are protected by both patents as well as copyrights. In such a situation, the patent law complements the copyright protection law. As such, the functional aspect of the computer program software may not be possible to copyright, but it can be patented and secured.

    Final word: The idea and creation process is unending. Every time it appears that an invention is perfected, we see a new variation of it. It could be a book being developed into a movie or a product being improved. Today, you do not need to carry several books because you can access it in a digital form or even get an audio version of it. Would Graham Bell have thought that the huge telephone he designed could be something you could essentially carry in your pocket? It is perhaps this creative aspect that resulted in the birth of   patent and copyright laws, and rightfully so! After all, these innovators and creators are making the world a better place.


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