Trademark, Patent, Software License and Copyright what’s it all about?

Written by | Tech

I often read about a company suing someone or another company because of patent infringement, trademark violation, copyright violation and software license violation, which is really confusing and I sometimes interchange the meaning of each word. So to clear things up, I did a little research on those four words that means so much to a company and not just a tech company.

You can read all about it after the jump.


By definition TRADEMARK means “a device (as a word) pointing distinctly to the origin or ownership of merchandise to which it is applied and legally reserved to the exclusive use of the owner as maker or seller”

Via Wikipedia:

A trademark, trade mark, or trade-mark is a distinctive sign or indicator used by an individual, business organization, or other legal entity to identify that the products or services to consumers with which the trademark appears originate from a unique source, and to distinguish its products or services from those of other entities.
A trademark may be designated by the following symbols:
™ (for an unregistered trade mark, that is, a mark used to promote or brand goods)
℠ (for an unregistered service mark, that is, a mark used to promote or brand services)
® (for a registered trademark)

A trademark is typically a name, word, phrase, logo, symbol, design, image, or a combination of these elements. There is also a range of non-conventional trademarks comprising marks which do not fall into these standard categories, such as those based on color, smell, or sound.

A good example of a trademark is a company logo and product name, like Apple, Microsoft, Windows Operating System, iPhone, iPod, Facebook, IBM, Google, Blackberry, yada, yada, yada.. you get the picture. Another example of a trademark is a slogan that clearly connects it to a certain product or company like the “Think Different” and “There’s an app for that” slogan of Apple.

A trademark violation is called Trademark infringement, where someone is using a company’s trademark without any permission to the trademark owner, a very good example of this are those knock-offs cell phones, the face iPhone 3GS, BlackBerry Curve 8900 or the Nokia N8, and who knows what else they violated.

Here are some high-profile Trademark infringement case in the Tech Industry:


Here’s another term that I’m sure you also read on tech blogs/news sites. Patent (according to Mr. Webster) is “a writing securing for a term of years the exclusive right to make, use, or sell an invention”. In short a patent is something that gives the inventor the right to use or not use his patented invention.

Keep in mind that a patent can be bought, sold or licensed by the patent holder.

Here are the 2010 Top 10 Patent Assignee (via

Rank Company 2010 Patents
1 IBM 5896
2 Samsung 4551
3 Microsoft 3094
4 Canon 2552
5 Panasonic Corp 2482
6 Toshiba 2246
7 Sony 2150
8 Intel 1653
9 LG 1490
10 HP 1480

A patent violation is called Patent infringement, which is (according to Wiki) the commission of a prohibited act with respect to a patented invention without permission from the patent holder. In layman’s term, A Patent infringement is using or selling of a patented invention without the permission of the patent holder, if you are not the inventor/patent holder of a certain patent, you are not allowed to use, sell or license it to another person or company.

Here are some of the high-profile patent infringement in the Tech Industry:

Of course there are thousands of patent infringement in the Tech Industries, Microsoft alone have been in the court-room a dozens (if not hundreds) of times relating to patent infringement case.


Copyright on the other hand is different from the Trademark Patent and Software License. Copy right usually involves tangible objects a book, photos, videos and audio (songs), and in the digital world, digital contents like web site contents, digital media (videos, audios and photos) and more.

By definition, Copyright means is a set of exclusive rights granted to the author or creator of an original work, including the right to copy, distribute and adapt the work. In most jurisdictions copyright arises upon fixation and does not need to be registered.

Here are a few example of a company/individuals that have been given the copyrights for the works of other people/company:

  • ESPN has been given the rights to broadcast NBA games
  • Bloomsbury Publishing (UK), Arthur A. Levine Books (US), Raincoast Books (CAN) are the publisher of Harry Potter books
  • Universal records distribute songs by Eminem, LADY GAGA, Mariah Carey and Justin Bieber

Just like the previous two above, violating a copyright is called “Copyright infringement” and to keep it simple Copyright infringement is distributing a copyrighted material without the consent of copyright holder, a very good example of this is PIRACY, reproducing a book then selling it, we all know about the music and video piracy, plagiarism is another example.

For us people, buying  pirated Books, CDs and DVD only encourages Copyright violators to continue their wrong doing, so better buy the original and we even help artists and writer  to keep on producing music, videos and books that we love.

Here are some of the high-profile Copyright infringement in the Tech Industry:

Can you name another Copyright infringement case that involves an IT company?


Of all the 4 that I mentioned above, Software license may be easiest to explain. “Software license is a legal instrument (usually by way of contract law) governing the usage or redistribution of software. All software is copyright protected, except material in the public domain. Contractual confidentiality is another way of protecting software. A typical software license grants an end-user permission to use one or more copies of software in ways where such a use would otherwise potentially constitute copyright infringement of the software owner’s exclusive rights under copyright law.” That’s how wiki explains it.

Just to keep it simple, Software license is a permission to install and use a software on your computer, the software license will also determine on how many computers you can install and use a certain software. Usually 1 license per computer or user, but other software company also provide multiple to unlimited licenses.

Violation on the Software license is not called “Software License infringement” but the violation lies in the software license agreement or commonly called (EULA) or END USER LICENSE AGREEMENT, if you violated that agreement, then the software license is void.

The best example and common violation that a license holder (user) commits is by installing a software to multiple computers, this of course applies to the 1 license per user rule or software piracy, where a certain individual reproduce a software and give them away for a fee.  In not a lawyer, so if you want to dig more on software license agreement, just click here.

I cannot remember any high-profile case on software piracy, but if you can name some, you are more than welcome to comment below.

Now everything is clear to me and I sure hope this help you a little in understanding about Trademark, Patent, Software License and Copyright. Truth to be told, I also learned a lot writing this entry and realize that I’ve been violating software licenses and copyrights, which of course you already know what that is.

Last modified: June 25, 2011

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