Information on this page is derived from the Websites of the United States Copyright Office and the United States Patent and Trademark Office.


Copyright and patent are legal protections for intellectual property. Copyright protects original works of authorship, while a patent protects inventions or discoveries. Ideas and discoveries are not protected by the intellectual property law, although the way in which they are expressed may be under protection.


U.S. Copyright


Copyright is a form of protection granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works. Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed. Copyright extends to both published and unpublished works. Copyright comes into existence the moment a work of authorship is created and fixed in a tangible form that is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device. Copyright registration is an optional practice that establishes a public record of the copyright and the contact information of the copyright owner. For publications in the United States, timely registration is required before one can file an infringement lawsuit. Copyright may be registered via eCO, the online registration system of the United States Copyright Office. Visit the office’s Website for complete information on copyright registration and the U.S. copyright law.


International Copyright


There is no international copyright law that automatically protects the rights of an intellectual property owner throughout the world. However, international copyright treaties and conventions provide copyright protection beyond national borders, to the extent enforced by countries that have signed reciprocal treaties and that abide by conventions such as the Berne Union for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Property and the Universal Copyright Convention. For further discussion and a list of countries that have reciprocal copyright treaties with the United States, see International Copyright Relations of the United States.




A U.S. patent for an invention is the grant of a property right to the inventor(s), issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). There are three types of patents: utility patents, design patents, and plant patents. The right conferred by the patent grant is, in the language of the statute and of the grant itself, “the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling” the invention in the United States or “importing” the invention into the United States. To obtain a U.S. patent, an inventor must file an application with the USPTO. Patent applications may be filed electronically via Patent Center, the Web-based patent application and document submission solution of the USPTO. Visit the office’s Website for complete information on patent application, the U.S. patent law, and international patent protection.


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