A patent is an intellectual property right granted by the Government of the United States of America to an inventor “to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention throughout the United States or importing the invention into the United States” for a limited time in exchange for public disclosure of the invention when the patent is granted. (USPTO)
Three types of patents:
Checklist: Should you patent your invention?
a few questions to ask before filing a patent application
When do you really need a patent?
a few pre-patent considerations from Business Week
Knowing if an invention is patentable is the first step in obtaining a patent. A thorough search of of all previous public disclosures (prior art) including, but not limited to previously patented inventions in the U.S. should be conducted. A search of foreign patents and printed publications should also be conducted.
A trademark 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. (wikipedia)