Why to Prefer Copyright Protection over Patents

Today we discuss why it is more cost-efficient to invest in United States copyright registration rather than utility patents or design patents. There are several extremely compelling reasons why the business owner should always consider copyright registration if the product fits into one of the copyright law categories.

First and foremost is that costs in terms of government filings fees, and attorney fees and expenses such as drawings and photographs, copyright registrations are overwhelmingly less expensive than either kind of United States patent. However, you may ask yourself: exactly how ‘overwhelming’ is ‘overwhelmingly?’

As an example for this question: for a routine utility patent application to proceed from drafting to full-fledged patent status requires a minimum of ten thousand dolls in attorney fees , drawings and other miscellaneous fees, and government fees. There may also be attorney fees for travel expenses to Washington, D.C. to directly discuss the application with a patent examiner. On the other hand, a routine United States copyright registration could generally cost as little as five hundred dollars for the entire process!

Although attorney fees to obtain permissions and releases will require attorney fee surcharges, the same is true for similar documents related to patents. Furthermore, after an application becomes a patent, for the enforceable life of that patent the owner must pay thousands of dollars in non-attorney taxes (known as maintenance fees). In contrast, there are no such taxes to maintain viable and enforceable United States copyright registration.

Secondly, to obtain a United States copyright registration a work need not be the first of its kind to be created, as is true with patents. In fact, the only requirement for a registered work is that it contain sufficient creativity and originality. How much creativity and originality? That depends upon how the courts and the copyright office have defined these requirements for each category of visual arts, music, architecture, software, and other copyrightable works.

In other words, a work need not be unique from previous registered works. This approach is very different from the patent law, because in the United States the first person to invent is the only person entitled to the patent. Theoretically there could be several of the identical work (such as a painting, drawing, manuscript) registered in the copyright office. This situation is entirely lawful, unless someone outside the copyright office challenges whether a particular work has been plagiarized.


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