The role of copyrights, patents, and trademarks

The role of copyrights, patents, and trademarks

  • In the previous page, we discussed what a license is, which is a grant of permission to undertake some activity. In the software context, those permissions include the ability to use software.

  • The reason a license is required to use software written by another entity is because the entity that wrote the software is the copyright-owner which has the exclusive right to use, copy, and distribute the software.

  • There are three intellectual property concepts closely linked with software licensing. There’s copyrights, trademarks, and patents.

  • In this lesson, we’ll briefly cover what copyrights, trademarks and patents are and what differentiates those concepts.


  • A trademark is a word or symbol used to describe a company, product, or service.

  • Where copyrights are about creative and expressive works, trademarks are about branding.

  • Trademarks and copyrights are often confused with one another because a good deal of creativity and artistry goes into the making of a trademark.

  • Examples of trademarks include the words and marks used to describe the and Linkedin brands.


  • A patent is the exclusive right to make, use, and sell an invention.

  • Inventions are the common, everyday objects we use on a day-to-day basis.

  • Inventions are include business processes, which addresses the question of whether software can be patented. Since business processes are typically carried out through software, the answer is a clear, “Yes.”

  • It is often confusing because software can also be the subject of copyright. The best way to reconcile the two is this way. The software code we can view and edit in an editor is subject to copyright. What the software does when it executes can be the subject of patent.

In order for somebody other than an owner of copyright, trademark, or patent to get the benefits of those items, a license must exist.