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You’re probably accustomed to seeing the trademark symbols, ™ and ®, as well as the emblem, ©, which indicates a copyrighted work. But do you know what these designations really mean and when you need them for your business?

Knowing how and when to protect your brand can be challenging, but the decisions you make to register your intellectual property will ensure your business will stand out for years to come. In this article, you’ll learn the differences between trademarks and copyrights and how to use these important legal protections.

Although people often confuse the two terms, copyrights and trademarks are two different entities. In a broad sense, a copyright protects intellectual and creative works, while a trademark applies to names, logos, and phrases that identify your brand.

Here are some examples of the key differences between copyrights and trademarks.

Copyrights

  • Granted by the U.S. Copyright Office
  • Protect the rights of the authors or creators of literary, musical, dramatic, artistic, and other intellectual works, ranging from history tests to software code.
  • For works created after Jan. 1, 1978, protection lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years.

Trademarks

  • Granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
  • Protect the use of a business name and the names of its products, including brand identity elements such as slogans and logos.
  • Protection can last forever, but the applicant must renew it and pay the required fee every 10 years.

Trademarks and Copyrights are Intellectual Property

In a digital world that allows us access to unprecedented amounts of information, we frequently read about the importance of protecting our intellectual property. Patents -- which protect discoveries and inventions – trademarks, and copyrights are the three primary ways to do just that.

“Intellectual property” is a term the describes the intangible creations of the human mind. Intellectual property laws allow people who own trademarks, copyrights, and patents to fully benefit from their creativity or their investment in the creation of their work.

Copyrights and trademarks are safeguards to prevent others from using your slogan or logo for marketing their brand. Companies have the right to file legal action against others who use these forms of intellectual property without permission.

What is a Trademark?

A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, URL, or logo that identifies a product or service used to distinguish itself from competitors. Well-known trademark examples are McDonald’s golden arches or Nike’s “Just Do It.”

Created by the U.S. Congress in 1946, trademark law is designed to protect both consumers and businesses from competitors who want to trick people into purchasing their product or service by capitalizing on an established brand name. When deciding on a trademark infringement, a court looks to whether or not a consumer is likely to be confused by the use of a competitor’s symbol or brand.

Unlike copyrights, trademarks do not expire after a set period. As long as you continue to use the entity to represent your goods or services and renew your trademark at regular intervals, it belongs to your company forever.

What Can be Trademarked?

Anything that distinguishes the goods or services of your company from a competitor in a commercial setting is eligible for a trademark. Examples include words and phrases, symbols, devices, and even colors.

What Cannot Be Trademarked?

  • Proper names without consent
  • Generic terms or phrases
  • Government symbols
  • Vulgar, immoral, deceptive, or disparaging words or phrases
  • Likenesses of any U.S. President
  • Sounds (covered by copyrights)

When you own a trademark, you control the uses of that phrase or logo within your industry. For instance, if a trucking company uses the slogan “Just Do It,” it would not be trademark infringement. Nike could only take another athletic apparel or equipment company to court because the unauthorized use of its trademark would be unlikely to cause confusion in this case.

Trademark Registration

You do not have to trademark any aspect of your business. You can establish “common law” rights of a symbol or phrase based solely on your continued use of it in commerce, without registration. However, it can be very difficult to pursue legal action against an infringing business without a trademark.

Before applying for a trademark, your first step is to make sure another business is not already using the mark. A trademark attorney, who will conduct a comprehensive search on your behalf, may be a wise investment.

If you are certain another business isn’t using your mark, the next step is to submit an application to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) as soon as possible. Anyone who applies for a similar mark after your application date will likely be rejected.

USPTO attorneys will then scrutinize your application and any required supporting materials to ensure your proposed mark does not conflict with current trademarks. If there is a similar mark, your application will either be rejected or returned to you with requested revisions.

A copyright protects a wide range of original works, including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic creations, such as poetry, songs, novels, plays, computer software, and architecture.

Unlike a trademark, copyright does not last forever. Protection generally lasts for the life of the author, plus an additional 70 years. For works created anonymously or under a pseudonym, protection lasts 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation, whichever timeframe is shorter.

Although Article I Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution – known as the "Copyright Clause” – describes copyright protection, copyright law is complex and remains subject to interpretation.

As the owner of a copyright, you have the right to reproduce your work or to create additional works based on your original piece. You have the sole right to present your work in public, and you can distribute your copyrighted material freely. Any unauthorized use of your work is a violation of your copyright.

What Can be Copyrighted?

A copyright protects works of authorship in some fixed form, such as a book, chart, map, print, sculpture, painting, dramatic work, film, choreography, computer program, website, architecture, or sound recording. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works.

Unlike a trademark, which protects the owner against others using a confusingly similar mark, copyrights are limited to the exact piece of work or a close replica.

What Cannot Be Copyrighted?

  • Ideas, concepts, methods, procedures, processes, principles, systems, or discoveries
  • Works that are not fixed in a tangible form
  • Titles, names, slogans, and phrases
  • Symbols or designs
  • Simple variations of lettering, typographic ornamentation, or coloring
  • Basic listings of ingredients or contents

Works “made for hire” are an exception to the general rule for claiming copyright ownership. When a work is made for hire, the person or company that hired the individual is considered both the author and the copyright owner. A business can avoid authorship disagreements on work-for-hire projects by requiring the author to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA).

You are not required to register for a copyright, but legal protection is difficult without one. You can register by submitting an application and a copy of the original work to the U.S. Copyright Office. In some cases, you can complete the entire process online.

The copyright review process generally takes four to five months. After you’ve submitted your application, you should consider adding a copyright application notice to your work. This notice deters others from using your work without permission.

A copyright notice consists of the following elements:

  • The symbol ©, the abbreviation “Copr.,” or the word “Copyright.”
  • The date of first publication of the work or its creation if the work is unpublished
  • The name of the copyright owner

You and your team work hard to create your products and services. Assets including your intellectual property can boost your company's net worth.

Knowing the scope of your rights and the ways intellectual property protections, such as trademarks and copyrights, can help you prevent consumer confusion as well as expensive, frustrating legal battles.

Trademarks and copyrights are intelectual property to protect creative works, names, logos, phrases. But there are some key differences between.

Helpful Resouces:
United States Patent and Trademark Office - USPTO
U.S. Copywrite Office - Copywrite.gov

You’re probably accustomed to seeing the trademark symbols, ™ and ®, as well as the emblem, ©, which indicates a copyrighted work. But do you know what these designations really mean and when you need them for your business?

Knowing how and when to protect your brand can be challenging, but the decisions you make to register your intellectual property will ensure your business will stand out for years to come. In this article, you’ll learn the differences between trademarks and copyrights and how to use these important legal protections.

Although people often confuse the two terms, copyrights and trademarks are two different entities. In a broad sense, a copyright protects intellectual and creative works, while a trademark applies to names, logos, and phrases that identify your brand.

Here are some examples of the key differences between copyrights and trademarks.

Copyrights

  • Granted by the U.S. Copyright Office
  • Protect the rights of the authors or creators of literary, musical, dramatic, artistic, and other intellectual works, ranging from history tests to software code.
  • For works created after Jan. 1, 1978, protection lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years.

Trademarks

  • Granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
  • Protect the use of a business name and the names of its products, including brand identity elements such as slogans and logos.
  • Protection can last forever, but the applicant must renew it and pay the required fee every 10 years.

Trademarks and Copyrights are Intellectual Property

In a digital world that allows us access to unprecedented amounts of information, we frequently read about the importance of protecting our intellectual property. Patents -- which protect discoveries and inventions – trademarks, and copyrights are the three primary ways to do just that.

“Intellectual property” is a term the describes the intangible creations of the human mind. Intellectual property laws allow people who own trademarks, copyrights, and patents to fully benefit from their creativity or their investment in the creation of their work.

Copyrights and trademarks are safeguards to prevent others from using your slogan or logo for marketing their brand. Companies have the right to file legal action against others who use these forms of intellectual property without permission.

What is a Trademark?

A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, URL, or logo that identifies a product or service used to distinguish itself from competitors. Well-known trademark examples are McDonald’s golden arches or Nike’s “Just Do It.”

Created by the U.S. Congress in 1946, trademark law is designed to protect both consumers and businesses from competitors who want to trick people into purchasing their product or service by capitalizing on an established brand name. When deciding on a trademark infringement, a court looks to whether or not a consumer is likely to be confused by the use of a competitor’s symbol or brand.

Unlike copyrights, trademarks do not expire after a set period. As long as you continue to use the entity to represent your goods or services and renew your trademark at regular intervals, it belongs to your company forever.

What Can be Trademarked?

Anything that distinguishes the goods or services of your company from a competitor in a commercial setting is eligible for a trademark. Examples include words and phrases, symbols, devices, and even colors.

What Cannot Be Trademarked?

  • Proper names without consent
  • Generic terms or phrases
  • Government symbols
  • Vulgar, immoral, deceptive, or disparaging words or phrases
  • Likenesses of any U.S. President
  • Sounds (covered by copyrights)

When you own a trademark, you control the uses of that phrase or logo within your industry. For instance, if a trucking company uses the slogan “Just Do It,” it would not be trademark infringement. Nike could only take another athletic apparel or equipment company to court because the unauthorized use of its trademark would be unlikely to cause confusion in this case.

Trademark Registration

You do not have to trademark any aspect of your business. You can establish “common law” rights of a symbol or phrase based solely on your continued use of it in commerce, without registration. However, it can be very difficult to pursue legal action against an infringing business without a trademark.

Before applying for a trademark, your first step is to make sure another business is not already using the mark. A trademark attorney, who will conduct a comprehensive search on your behalf, may be a wise investment.

If you are certain another business isn’t using your mark, the next step is to submit an application to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) as soon as possible. Anyone who applies for a similar mark after your application date will likely be rejected.

USPTO attorneys will then scrutinize your application and any required supporting materials to ensure your proposed mark does not conflict with current trademarks. If there is a similar mark, your application will either be rejected or returned to you with requested revisions.

A copyright protects a wide range of original works, including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic creations, such as poetry, songs, novels, plays, computer software, and architecture.

Unlike a trademark, copyright does not last forever. Protection generally lasts for the life of the author, plus an additional 70 years. For works created anonymously or under a pseudonym, protection lasts 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation, whichever timeframe is shorter.

Although Article I Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution – known as the "Copyright Clause” – describes copyright protection, copyright law is complex and remains subject to interpretation.

As the owner of a copyright, you have the right to reproduce your work or to create additional works based on your original piece. You have the sole right to present your work in public, and you can distribute your copyrighted material freely. Any unauthorized use of your work is a violation of your copyright.

What Can be Copyrighted?

A copyright protects works of authorship in some fixed form, such as a book, chart, map, print, sculpture, painting, dramatic work, film, choreography, computer program, website, architecture, or sound recording. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works.

Unlike a trademark, which protects the owner against others using a confusingly similar mark, copyrights are limited to the exact piece of work or a close replica.

What Cannot Be Copyrighted?

  • Ideas, concepts, methods, procedures, processes, principles, systems, or discoveries
  • Works that are not fixed in a tangible form
  • Titles, names, slogans, and phrases
  • Symbols or designs
  • Simple variations of lettering, typographic ornamentation, or coloring
  • Basic listings of ingredients or contents

Works “made for hire” are an exception to the general rule for claiming copyright ownership. When a work is made for hire, the person or company that hired the individual is considered both the author and the copyright owner. A business can avoid authorship disagreements on work-for-hire projects by requiring the author to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA).

You are not required to register for a copyright, but legal protection is difficult without one. You can register by submitting an application and a copy of the original work to the U.S. Copyright Office. In some cases, you can complete the entire process online.

The copyright review process generally takes four to five months. After you’ve submitted your application, you should consider adding a copyright application notice to your work. This notice deters others from using your work without permission.

A copyright notice consists of the following elements:

  • The symbol ©, the abbreviation “Copr.,” or the word “Copyright.”
  • The date of first publication of the work or its creation if the work is unpublished
  • The name of the copyright owner

You and your team work hard to create your products and services. Assets including your intellectual property can boost your company's net worth.

Knowing the scope of your rights and the ways intellectual property protections, such as trademarks and copyrights, can help you prevent consumer confusion as well as expensive, frustrating legal battles.

Trademarks and copyrights are intelectual property to protect creative works, names, logos, phrases. But there are some key differences between.

Helpful Resouces:
United States Patent and Trademark Office - USPTO
U.S. Copywrite Office - Copywrite.gov