What are patents and copyrights?

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Patents and copyrights are exclusive rights to certain ideas, inventions, or works that are granted by the government to the people who developed those types of intellectual property.  In a sense, patents and copyrights are very similar, but they cover different types of intellectual property.

The point of both copyrights and patents is to protect the rights of innovators.  It would not make sense, for example, to allow companies to simply copy the iPhone and sell it themselves.  It would not make sense to allow theater owners to make a copy of a hit movie and screen it without paying the people who made it.  To prevent these sorts of injustices, the government grants patents and copyrights.

Patents are more sweeping than copyrights.  They protect both inventions and the ideas behind the inventions.  For example, if you come up with a new idea for the proverbial “better mousetrap” you can get a patent on that idea.  So long as the idea is new and useful, you can patent it.  Only you would be able to make a mousetrap using that new idea.

Copyrights apply mainly to creative works. They prevent people other than the copyright holder from copying the work as a whole or copying more than a small portion of the work.

Patents and copyrights, then, are protections granted by the government that prevent people other than the holder from using or copying the protected intellectual property.


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