As an entrepreneur or artist, the most important thing is creating and sustaining a business enterprise that brings in a profit. Selling a useful product or service is obviously crucial for that purpose, but equally important is registering your business's intellectual property (IP). Otherwise, other people may use your original creative material or other unique properties for their benefit with no repercussions.
You are likely familiar with IP terms like “trademark” and “copyright” but may not know the distinctions between them. Let this post serve as a general guide by laying out some important distinctions between these two important tools for business owners and artists. By the time you're done with this short read, you will hopefully have a much better idea about which one is right for what you want to protect!
The Basics of Trademarks
A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, device, or design that identifies a product; it also lets the user know the source of the product or service. Items that are frequently trademarked include a company's logo, slogan, or motto. A service mark is the term for a protected mark that identifies a specific service, rather than a product. However, many people also use the term “trademark” to describe marks that are technically service marks.
What You Need to Know About Copyrights
Copyrights protect original works created in a “fixed form.” A common usage of a copyright is to protect works of art, such as songs, films, books, poetry, and even software. What many do not realize is that once an original work has been created, that work is automatically copyrighted. However, if you want a copyright that is enforceable in court, you must register it with the U.S. Copyright Office (USCO).
What Makes Trademarks and Copyrights Different?
Trademarks and copyrights simply protect different types of assets. If you are looking for protection for a piece of creative work, a copyright is probably the best tool. Other original assets might be better suited for a trademark.
One major difference between trademarks and copyrights is the unique registration procedure for each protection. Copyrights must go through the USCO, while trademarks are granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Another key difference is that copyrights, like patents, expire after a certain number of years. Trademarks, on the other hand, generally do not expire but must be renewed.
It is common for artists and business entities to utilize both trademarks and copyrights. For example, record label owners will trademark their signature logo but copyright certain albums and songs. It is always best to discuss your IP options with an experienced and knowledgeable attorney so you can be sure your business assets are protected.