How Do Copyright and Patent Differ?
A copyright is given for work of a creative or artistic nature which has been fixed in a medium. Patents are granted to inventions or discoveries which were not known before. Even though both copyright and patents are covered under the term intellectual property, they have important differences from each other. Read more about copyright in the article What is Copyright?
Copyrights now extend well beyond the life of a creator, so they can be bequeathed to someone else after the creator's death. Patents must be applied for and awarded before the inventor gains exclusive rights, and those rights only exist for a limited time. However, a patent could be willed to someone by the inventor if it was still in effect.
Unlike copyright, inventing something does not provide automatic protection for the invention. Until the filing process has started, another person could patent the same invention, and then they would be the holder of the exclusive rights to the invention. Read more about patents in the article What is a Patent?
Patenting is a much more time consuming and expensive process than copyright, even if you are registering a copyright. It has a number of steps and requirements which must be completed before the application can be filed. These include searching through the database of the US Patent Office database for other patents already filed which are the same invention, or which are so similar that the new filing does not have enough novelty to get patented. The data base, and an electronic version of it are open to the public, and the parts online can also be searched through Google.
Copyright has the doctrine of fair use. This means minor portions of a copyrighted work can be used or cited by another person and as long as the use is acknowledged and it meets fair use criteria, no reimbursement to the creator is required. An example of this is the quote from the World Intellectual Property Organization, earlier in this article. Fair use is discussed in Title 17, Chapter 1, section 107 of the United States code, which covers copyright law. It is possible to infringe on a copyright, and the copyright holder can take the case to court for damages, but it does mean some use of some portions of copyrighted material is legal.
A patent means that the invention cannot be used without permission from the patent holder without infringement. The patent holder's rights can be enforced by a court of law, which can award monetary damages from the infringement to be paid to the patent holder. While some use of copyrighted work is clearly fair use, and some may be more doubtful, depending on the amount of copyrighted material used, there are very few circumstances where unlicensed use of patented work is condoned, let alone considered legal. The US government will help protect American intellectual property.
Once the time covered by a copyright or patent has expired, the works move into the public domain.