A patent’s main purpose is in the protection of physical processes and inventions. For example, developing a machine that turns coal into diamonds. In contrast, the purpose of copyrights is to protect the expression of unique ideas. An example of this would be a book describing the process of turning coal into diamonds.

A good way to differentiate patents from copyrights is in the idea of "mental steps." While most patented items are born from ideas, their utility comes from the end product. For example, the usefulness of a car is based on its physical design and the assembly of its parts.

In contrast, a copyrightable item gains its usefulness from its expression of a mental idea or process. For example, the usefulness of a book isn’t in the construction of the book itself, but in the thoughts and ideas that are written down in the actual text.

What are some Examples of Patents and Copyrights?

An example of a patent includes just about any physical invention you can imagine. This includes toasters, airplanes, computers, generators, and even something as simple as a toenail clipper. In addition, patents can include the creation of synthetic (not naturally occurring) plant breeds as well as unique design methods for existing inventions (e.g. a car that uses magnetic force to move rather than an internal combustion engine)

Examples of copyrights include all types of expressive mediums, such as books, songs, screenplays, and paintings. In addition, copyrights include protection for computer software and programs. Although a computer program may appear to be patentable, courts consider them to be expressions of mental logic and reasoning (based on their creation from computer coding). However, some programs may be patentable if they are designed in conjunction with accompanying physical hardware.

Do Patents and Copyrights Differ in their Level of Protection?

Yes. Patents not only protect the particular design of an invention, they also protect against deviations from that invention as well. For example, suppose X builds a perpetual motion plane that Y intends to duplicate. Even if Y decides to use different parts or alters some of the design, as long as Y’s invention is also a perpetual motion plane, this is still considered patent infringement of X’s invention.

In contrast, copyright protection is much more literal.  For example, suppose X writes a book about yoga and its effects on golfing.  Even if Y were to write a book on the same subject, this is not considered copyright infringement.  Y would likely have to copy exact passages or employ the same arguments used in X’s book to be guilty of infringement.

How Can a Lawyer Help Me?

When dealing with patents or copyrights, it’s easy for a person to become confused over which of the two actually applies to their new idea or invention. Therefore, it is best to consult an experience intellectual property attorney when filing for either a patent or copyright. A lawyer can not only point in you the right direction, but also assist you in the actual obtainment of a patent or copyright.