The Difference Between Copyright and Trademark Protection

Trademark vs copyright registration – what’s the difference? While both offer legal protections under the law, each protects different kinds of intellectual property. They actually have very little to do with one another.

What a trademark protects

A trademark protects a name, logo, phrase, or slogan that is used to identify and distinguish a product or service in the marketplace. Put another way, trademarks are used to differentiate one product or service from competing products or services.

Are There Different Types of Trademarks?

The types of trademarks include product marks, service marks, collective marks, and certification marks, each serving a specific function in identifying and protecting intellectual property. The difference between product marks and service marks is rather self-explanatory with product marks covering physical products while a service mark refers to services rather than tangible goods. This legal distinction is crucial for branding and marketing strategies.

Why are Trademarks Important?

The trademark registration process solidifies a business’s claim to its name or logo. Trademark application is a crucial step for business owners in securing their intellectual property law rights. The process ensures their business assets, such as names and logos, are legally protected against misuse or confusion among consumers.

For example, if you owned a restaurant named Billy’s Burger Bar, then the name of the restaurant could serve as a trademark. The name would identify, distinguish, and differentiate your business from other restaurants in your area. When people hear or see the name Billy’s Burger Bar they would understand it to be a reference to your restaurant, and not to the Burger King restaurant across the street.

Pursuing federal trademark registration solidifies this protection, making it a registered trademark. This legal status reinforces the brand’s identity and helps prevent confusion among consumers.

Additionally, the purpose of pursuing trademark registration for your mark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is to stop competitors from using your business name for their own business. You want to be the only Billy’s Burger Bar in town (or in the country). If another restaurant opened up with the same brand name, then that could confuse your customers, and people might assume that the two restaurants were related. With a registered mark, you, as the trademark owner, could then use your trademark rights to stop the other restaurant from using the same, or a similar, name or logo. In this case, trademark law would be on your side and you would be within your right to take legal action.

Well-known examples of trademarks include global brands and local businesses alike, each uniquely identified by their distinct name or logo.

Read more: How To Register A Trademark

How Long Does a Trademark Last?

The simple answer to the question of how long your trademark lasts is six years. After six years the USPTO can cancel your trademark if you haven’t filed the appropriate paperwork. You can read more about how long a trademark lasts here.

What copyright protects

Instead of protecting a name or slogan, copyright provides intellectual property protection to an original creative work, such as a book, a film, or a painting (often referred to as original works of authorship.) This includes various forms of creative expression such as sound recordings and other material in a tangible form.

Why is Copyright Important?

By having a copyright, the author of the creative work can stop others from copying or reproducing the work without permission. In other words, copyright provides you with the right to control how your creative work is used.

For any original piece of work, securing official copyright registration is a crucial step. This not only includes the exact piece but also covers any amounts of time or period of time it takes for the creation.

For example, the Harry Potter books are protected by copyright. This means that if you published a book that copied the text of the Harry Potter books without the copyright owner’s permission, then you would be in violation of the owner’s copyright. The owner could then sue you in federal court for copyright infringement.

Copyright law exists to provide creators with the exclusive rights to their artistic works. If anyone could copy and resell creative works without restriction, creators would have much less incentive to produce anything. Copyright law allows them to profit from their creative endeavors.

How Long Does Copyright Protection Last For?

Copyrighted material can range from books and movies to blog posts and photographs, with the duration of protection lasting the author’s life plus 70 years in most jurisdictions, after which the work enters the public domain.

What Doesn’t Copyright Cover?

It should be noted that copyright protects only the content of the creative work in a tangible medium. It does not protect the ideas found therein. Someone could write and publish a book about wizards and magic, very similar to the Harry Potter books, without violating copyright law. As long as the content is original, the work would not only be free from copyright violation, but it would be copyrightable itself.

The degree of similarity between works is a critical factor in determining copyright infringement. Although confusing similarities may lead to legal disputes, copyright law offers a balanced approach to protect creators while allowing for artistic freedom.

Trademark or copyright?

So how can you tell if you need a trademark or a copyright? Thankfully, this is a very easy exercise.

If you have a business and you want to protect its name, logo, or slogan, then you would need a trademark. Famous examples of trademarks for businesses include the names Nike and Burger King, and the slogans Just Do It and Have It Your Way.

If you have a product, and you want to protect the name, logo, or slogan that you use to promote or sell that product, then you would also want to get a trademark. Famous example of product trademarks include the name “iPhone” for Apple’s line of smartphones and the name “Barbie” for Mattel’s line of dolls.

On the other hand, if you have created content, then your work would likely fall under the realm of copyright law. For example, the lyrics and music to the song “I Will Always Love You” are protected through copyright. The movie Jaws is also protected through copyright. Essentially, any creative and original work outside of business names or slogans can be protected through copyright.

ItemTrademark or Copyright?
Business NameTrademark
Business SloganTrademark
Business LogoCan be both
Song LyricsCopyright

The only exception to the general rules listed above is that logos can be protected by both trademarks and copyrights. A logo is both a creative work (which is required for copyright protection) and a device used to distinguish or differentiate a product or service from another competing product or service (which is required for trademark protection).

It’s important to note that trademarks don’t outweigh copyrights because the two forms of intellectual property rights serve different purposes.

Understanding the nuances between these two forms of intellectual property law is essential for creators, business owners, and intellectual property attorneys. While the copyright notice and the trademark symbol are visible signs of these protections, the underlying legal frameworks provide a comprehensive shield for various forms of creation and business identity.

The general public might often confuse the terms copyright and trademark, as well as the trademark and copyright symbol, but it’s important to understand that they protect different assets.

Conducting a trademark search is the initial step in the trademark application process, ensuring that the mark isn’t already in use or registered. This is essential for distinguishing your company’s products or services in the market. If you want to protect your business or creative work with a trademark or copyright, a trademark attorney will be able to easily help you with this.

A trademark lawyer can make differentiating between a trademark and a copyright much easier as well as the process of applying for either of them. Please get in touch with our trademark attorney team if you need help protecting your assets.

Further Reading

Xavier Morales, Esq.

About the Author:

Xavier Morales, Esq.

Mr. Morales founded this trademark law practice in January 2007 with the goal of providing intellectual property expertise to entrepreneurs and businesses around the country. Since then, he has filed more than 6,000 trademarks with the USPTO. You can learn more about Xavier here.

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