Trademark vs. Copyright: Which One Should You Use?
You took the leap and your business is ready to make its mark on the world. You’ve got a great business model, you’re working hard to build your brand, and now it’s time to make sure your business is protected from… copycats, let’s say. To properly protect your business or works, you’re trying to decide whether you should trademark or copyright is the right option for you.
But what is the difference between the two? Learn more about trademark vs. copyright below.
What do ‘trademark’ and ‘copyright’ even mean?
If you don’t know what these terms are, don’t fret. That’s why we’re here! Let’s break it down simple:
A copyright is created automatically when you create a unique work, whether that’s a piece of art, a design, a website, a photo, etc. However, if you want to prevent anyone else from using or distributing the copyright work, you will have to register that piece. You must also register the copyright 3 months from the creation of the work, or you can only pursue infringement claims for events that happen after you register.
Remember that copyrights don’t extend to ideas. However, once your idea comes to life and is distinguishable from others, you have a copyright in that.
Are you still trying to figure out whether you can use something in your design or if it's different enough? Well, we’ve got you covered.
A trademark, on the other hand, is a word, phrase, or symbol that distinguishes a source of goods. Think “Google.” We all know what Google is, and wouldn’t it be weird if someone else started using the word to describe their own, different search engine? That’s why companies trademark things.
You automatically have a trademark and a copyright when you create your logo... but you’ll want to register it to prevent others from using it. More on that below.
So… which is right for you? Trademark or copyright
Before you decide if you need a trademark or a copyright, you’ll want to consider the way you’re using each. If it has any creative work involved, you’ll want to use a copyright. If it’s more of a word or set of words, you’ll want to use a trademark. To make matters more interesting, your logo could be considered a trademark AND a copyright if it has both features!
There's another way to think about it: A copyright protects your work from others, while a trademark makes it easier for your business and brand to stand out.
Of course, if you want to be able to pursue claims against anyone who infringes on you (aside from your logo), you’ll need to register for either one.
While you hold the copyright to your work as soon as it’s created, you’ll want to register your copyright as well if you want to encourage copycats to remove their replicas or unapproved copies. Is your work getting copied? Is it being used without your permission? Do you want people to know that something is your creative brain baby? THEN FILE YOUR COPYRIGHT ALREADY! Sorry we shouted, we’re just so excited for you!
To register your copyright, you’ll want to go ahead and complete your copyright application. (Sorry, this is just for our U.S.-based peeps. You’ll need to explore your country’s copyright office if you’re living elsewhere.)
Decided to use a trademark? You’ll want to register it to maximize your benefits. What might those benefits be? Well, greater legal protections to start. It’ll also make you look pretty legit as a business, and who doesn’t want that?! Plus, you can use that fancy ® symbol. You can have some protections simply by using your trademark, but you will want to have full rights to send that "cease and desist" letter — which requires registration.
Once you decide that registering is the way to go (trust us, it is), you’ll want to go to the USPTO website and follow the process there. This process can take some time, as the trademark database is extensive. You’ll also have to wait for the USPTO to publish your name in their publication to allow anyone/any institution with potential concerns to flag them.
Both trademarks and copyrights are meant to protect you
We know, we know… why would anyone steal someone else’s work? But it happens. So, it’s important to figure out which legal protection is right for you! If you want to protect something unique you’ve created (besides a logo), a copyright might be the best approach. If you want to make sure that your tagline, words, phrases, or symbols are protected, consider a trademark. Have any other questions? Drop a comment below and let us know.
Still having trouble deciding which to choose? Reach out to an intellectual property attorney for some help.