Trademarks & Patents : Two Sides of the Same Coin

The general public think of trademarks and patents more by what they have in common (which is granting exclusive rights to its owner) than what sets them apart. But their key difference in function and scope, while both grant protection, make them two sides of the same coin.

The difference between a patent and a trademark can best be imagined as the difference between an adhesive sheet material and a Post-It® Notes.

Patents cover inventions, which are technical solutions to a problem. In the Philippines, patent applications are subject to requirements under the law, namely novelty, involvement of an inventive step, and industrial applicability. These three requirements are the basis for determining an invention's patentability, a decision to be arrived at by the competent authority, which in the Philippines is Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines' Bureau of Patents.

After thorough evaluation, applications that meet these thresholds are issued ''Letters Patent Certificates".

Patents protect the product or process which provides a technical solution to a problem in any field of human activity, like new and inventive adhesive sheet materials.

What about trademarks?

If the 3M Company's "pressure-sensitive adhesive sheet material", being a  technological solution, was granted a patent (now expired) in the United States, how is a Post-It (the trademark, which is still in force) different?

A trademark's main function is to identify the source of a good or a service, thereby establishing the link between the good/service and the business offering it.  In establishing that link, the trade or service mark becomes the face and identity of the business. Certain values like service excellence, or a certain standard in an industry comes to be associated with that trade or service mark.

In other products, other notable examples are: Advil being the registered trademark of the anti-inflammatory active ingredient of Ibuprofen, while Band-Aid is the trademark for the once-patented adhesive bandages, invented by an employee of Johnson and Johnson.

In the Philippines, the IPOPHL's Bureau of Trademark is the agency tasked to receive applications for these marks, and if they meet the test of distinctiveness and other requirements of the law, the agency may  issue them "Certificates of Registration".

With these two IP rights protecting different aspects of the same good or service , it would be a inappropriate to say words can be patented.