The difference between trademarks and copyrights is frequently misunderstood by business owners, much to their detriment. Don’t be one of those business owners that are in the dark about their intellectual property! This blog covers some basics.
Taking a few moments now to learn a bit more about these basics can help you to prevent messy debates in the future. After all, IP is already a hot button issue in many business sectors, so it’s a good idea to have a solid base to work from. Our trademark experts can help to sort things out if you still find yourself a little confused.
What Is A Trademark?
A trademark is a mark—a symbol, word, device, number—that is affixed to a product to identify the manufacturer of the product to the purchaser. The Nike swoosh is an excellent example of a trademark because the minute you see it, without any words or other context, you know exactly where the product came from—Nike.
This is the fundamental purpose of a trademark (or service mark on services): to distinguish the manufacturers of the same kind of products from each other and allow consumers to make choices based on their knowledge of the brand.
Examples Of A Trademark
The law limits what can constitute a “mark” for use on goods or services that are for sale. Marks can absolutely consist of words (even phrases), symbols, designs, numbers, a combination of any of these elements, and even sounds! U.S. trademark law also recognizes that colors and scents (but not perfumes) can stand as trademarks and thus be allowed protection. The other key element with a trademark is that the mark has to be used on specific goods or services that are being offered for sale in commerce.
Chances are that you’ve seen a great deal of trademarked logos in your lifetime, and many of them have a small symbol next to them indicating that they’re registered. This famous circle and R emblem indicates that the trademark is protected within its respective industry. Partnerships and other types of companies can have these marks. In fact, you could enjoy the right to have one irrespective of the type of business venture your organization manages.
Contrary to popular belief, different companies can actually trademark similar names as long as they’re in different industries. The problem instead arises from situations where a company might easily be confused for another. As long as there’s no significant risk of your firm being confused with another, you can normally register the trademarked name that you want.
What Is A Copyright?
If you picture a Venn diagram with one circle representing trademarks and one circle representing copyrights, their overlap will be exceedingly small. This is also where a great deal of the confusion comes in since most people seem to think that trademarks and copyrights are interchangeable. This is not the case at all. While trademarks are used to sell goods and services, copyrights are designed to give protection to artists who create works of creativity including photographs, novels, architectural plans, and even software.
Essentially, a copyright is the right given to the author or original source of content for a limited amount of time to have the sole right to exploit, sell, display, perform, and share their work. Not everything is eligible to be copyrighted though.
Examples Of A Copyright
For example, while novels and stories are copyrightable, ideas for those stories are not. Phrases are also not eligible, but they can be for trademarks. Music, paintings, sculpture, photographs, etc. are all eligible.
If you plan on trademarking a phrase, then you want to make sure that it’s something completely related to your business. Those who try to get one that’s not immediately relevant to the kind of work they do might find that they get turned down without too much question. However, you might find that copyright could work if your material constitutes an actual published piece of writing.
The thing about copyrights is that they are only granted for a limited time. “Limited” continues to be extended by Congress, to continue to give protection to certain lucrative works that would otherwise age out of the system and into the “public domain.”
When a work enters the “public domain,” it no longer has an owner and it is not infringement to copy it, share it, perform it, alter it, or do anything else with it. This is how Jane Eyre has been rewritten to include zombies nowadays. While making some of Charlotte Brontë’s characters fight off the undead might seem a little silly, this part of copyright law has had some huge impacts on modern online businesses.
Public Domain’s Impact On The Internet
At first, most public domain materials being distributed online consisted of classic books, encyclopedias and dictionaries. However, a great deal of material is purposefully made with the intent of releasing it into the public domain and taking advantage of the Internet’s ability to distribute materials far and wide. While this might be helpful to those sharing open-source projects, you may not want this happening to materials you create for your business.
If you’re making things that have some sort of monetary value for your company online, then you might need to copyright them in order to retain at least some rights over how they’re used. Keep in mind that copyright was never intended to control every single potential usage of a material.
For businesses, trademark and copyright are actually very important sources of value and should be treated as such. Remember, it is your trademarks that are selling your products and services. It is your copyrighted content on your website that is bringing in customers. Both are extremely important assets that need protecting.
Keep in mind that people use many different licenses for the distribution of online content. There’s a good chance that some of what you create could be released under one of these so that your firm can retain some rights without restricting future users from doing whatever they might deem necessary with what you have to over. Carefully weighing all of these options is a good idea, especially if your firm primarily works in the technical or online marketing industries.
Take a few moments to enumerate all of the material you’ve posted online. Once you know more about your digital profile, you’ll be in a better position to figure out what kind of licenses you might need.
Understand Intellectual Property Protections With Trembly Law
The team at Trembly Law Firm can help you register, maintain, and protect your business’s intellectual property assets. There’s no reason that you need to travel along this journey alone.
It is always a good investment in your business to have a knowledgeable attorney evaluate your intellectual property portfolio and advise you as to how to protect it. If you have any questions or would like to register a trademark or copyright with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, please don’t hesitate tocontact us.