When launching a business, most of us focus on the most exciting aspects, such as coming up with a brand name, developing product or service lines, thinking about how to get wares into customers’ hands, and our ideas and dreams for the future.
Yet, a critical topic not enough people pay attention to is intellectual property. In particular, it’s wise to understand the difference between copyright and trademarks to know what you might need for your venture.
The Main Similarities Between Copyright and Trademarks
Both copyright and trademarks are forms of intellectual property (IP). This property is a person’s or organization’s intangible assets that get created by the mind. For example, IP covers inventions, commercial names and images, designs, symbols, and literary, musical, and artistic works. Intellectual property can encompass ideas as well as works or processes that come from them.
The Key Differences Between Copyright and Trademarks
When it comes to analyzing copyright vs. trademarks, there are plenty of differences. The main variation between the two is that they protect different asset types and have different registration requirements. Plus, each one gets handled by a different U.S. government department (copyright by the U.S. Copyright Office and trademarks by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office).
Copyright and Trademarks Explained
So, what exactly does copyright protect versus trademarks? Copyright legally protects literary, artistic, dramatic, musical, audiovisual, or other intellectually created works classified as “original works of authorship.” Examples include novels, poetry, movies, music, photographs, paintings, software code, and other tangible mediums of expression. Copyright covers a broad range of media, including words, numbers, pictures, sounds, notes, etc.
Copyright is also automatically generated when a person, businesspeople, or organizational workers create a work, and it applies to both published and unpublished items. A specific example of copyright is the protection afforded to a musician’s song lyrics.
On the other hand, a trademark legally protects things that distinguish one business, organization, performer, etc., from others. It covers words, phrases, logos, slogans, brands, and related designs, or combinations of these things that are used to identify a firm or solopreneur and their goods or services and set them apart from others. Trademarks can also indicate the source of goods or services.
Note that you can’t register a trademark without explicitly identifying the goods or services being used, and that trademarks aren’t limited to a single good or service. Furthermore, a trademark can cover both goods and services. Those applying for a trademark must be specific about the goods or services the trademark will represent when registering for IP protection to clearly identify the trademark’s scope of use.
The idea is to legally prevent others from using the same or a similar trademark for goods or services related to this scope without your explicit permission. For instance, you might trademark a name for a bookshop so that no one else can use the same or a similar name for their own bookstore or similar service.
It’s also critical to understand that trademarks aren’t automatically generated. Instead, the people who wish to trademark their or their organization’s work need to undergo more extensive government registration to have their legal protections approved. For example, the well-known soft drink company Coca-Cola has trademarked its business name.
When to Use Each Option
You should rely on copyright when you want to protect your exclusive right to display or perform your created work or reproduce or distribute it. Plus, use copyright to prevent others from copying, sharing, or otherwise exploiting what you created without first obtaining your permission.
As for trademarks, use them when you want to protect your name, symbol, tagline, brand, etc., from being registered by others without permission. Invest in this intellectual property type to help stop others from using any kind of trademark that’s too similar to yours for related goods or services.
Duration of Intellectual Property
Copyright on a work lasts for the creator’s life plus seventy years. This duration also extends to performance, display, and web transmissions of materials. Trademarks, however, don’t have a set timeframe. Instead, they keep going as long as the trademark owners continue to use what is trademarked in ordinary commerce.
You do have to renew your trademark registration, though. This needs to be done between the 9th and 10th years following the initial registration date and every ten years after that.
While copyright and trademarks both help individuals and organizations to protect their work, they clearly operate in different ways. If you’re unsure which option is best to use for your individual situation, it pays to consult with a specialist IP lawyer or other experts.