Trademarks & Copyrights: What’s the Difference?

Intellectual property can be challenging to understand.  The most frequently confused intellectual property rights are trademarks and copyrights. If have an existing business or are interested in starting one, it is imperative that you understand the difference between the two.

What is a Trademark and how do you use it?

A trademark is a word, slogan, symbol, phrase, symbol, or design (or combination of these) that identifies the source of your goods/services and distinguishes it from goods/services sold by someone else. For example, when you think of Coca-Cola® you can immediately distinguish it from Pepsi® or other soda brands.

When you use your business name, brand, logo, or product name, you are engaging in trademark use.  However, simply using your trademark does not necessarily give you trademark rights. To enjoy the nationwide rights of a federal trademark registration, you must file a trademark application and receive the registration.  There are several benefits to receiving a registered trademark from the United States Patent and Trademark Office including:

  • The exclusive right to use the mark
  • Places public on notice that you own the trademark
  • Right to bring trademark infringement claims against others
  • Trademark is listed in the USPTO database

You may already be familiar with the and ® trademark symbols.  Just as there is confusion as to when a trademark is applicable, there is also confusion regarding when to attach the or ® symbol to an existing trademark.  The  symbol should be used when you are engaging in trademark use but have not yet registered the trademark with the USPTO. This indicates that you have common law rights to your trademark or service mark.  After you have filed your trademark application and have received your trademark registration from the USPTO, you are permitted to use the ®symbol to indicate that you have nationwide federal trademark rights.

What is a Copyright and what does it protect?

Copyright refers to an intellectual property owner’s legal right to copy an original product or work.  Under copyright law, a work is considered original if the author/creator created it from independent thinking, void of duplication. Different from a trademark, a copyright protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture.  These works of authorship must be “fixed in a tangible medium of expression”. It’s not enough to have an idea for a movie; it must be written down, recorded, or documented in some way.

Still confused?  Okay, let’s take Game of Thrones®, for example.  The television show’s name is a protected trademark.  All merchandise sold under the Game of Thrones® brand is also protected by a trademark.  The written script for the show, however, is protected by a copyright. A copyright provides the creator of the work the right to control “derivative works” or all copies, duplicates, or modifications of the work.  This also includes control over selling and reprinting copies or displaying the work. Other people can only copy and/or sell your work only if you’ve given them your permission or have given them the copyright.

There is only one symbol for a copyright: ©.  In business, it is in your best interest to assign the © symbol next to your work as a way to inform the public that you own the copyrighted work, especially if you display your work online.  

Trademarks & Copyright at IPS Legal Group, P.A.

Contact an attorney at IPS Legal Group, P.A. if you want to learn more about the differences between trademarks and copyrights, of if you need assistance with a particular legal need.

Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to be a substitute for legal advice or instruction. Every legal question calls for a different legal answer, and the above might not be applicable to your situation.  Contact IPS Legal Group, P.A. today to discuss your business needs

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