When it comes to starting your own business, there are so many things to get excited about that proactively protecting yourself might not be the first thing on your mind. But if your goal is to make a lasting impact on the world and achieve success (and why wouldn’t it be?!) you’re going to want to get the word out to as many people as possible, and that can come with risk.
In one of our recent blogs, we talked in depth about the importance of protecting your secret sauce (aka your intellectual property) and gave a brief overview of why it’s important to register your copyright and trademarks in order to mitigate risk and proactively protect your business.
However, we know that attempting to decipher the difference between copyright and trademarks can be confusing and that you’re likely seeking more clarity around the legal jargon. So in today's blog, we are diving deeper into these two concepts so you can get a better understanding of what they are and how they can empower you in your business.
A quick note...
Before we begin, the first thing you need to know is that you cannot protect an idea in and of itself. We know, you’re likely full to the brim with dozens of different ideas about what you could do and different companies you could start. However, you can only actually legally protect the way an idea is expressed, and that’s where copyright and trademarks come into play.
What’s the difference between Copyright vs. Trademark?
There are significant differences between copyrights and trademarks. To put it in perspective, the offices for copyright and trademark services are managed by two completely separate entities within the federal government: the U.S. Copyright Office and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). But what exactly do they protect?
Copyrights protect a physical representation of your idea -- or in other words, the rights of an “author” of an original work. This could be in the form of a video, a website, a poem, software, architecture, a song, a blog, or anything else that you can tangibly say exists as your original creation.
The good news is that as soon as you have created something, you technically own the copyright, which is why you’ll commonly see the little copyright sign displayed on the bottom of a website. However, you’re only able to file a lawsuit to enforce your copyright and potentially collect monetary compensation if you registered your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office.
A trademark, on the other hand, pertains more to your actual business than it does to your idea. With trademarks, you will be registering your logos, company names, taglines, and unique phrases that give your brand its identity.
Although you do get some initial protection just by selling your goods or services, you will only be protected within your small geographic area if you do not formally register your trademark with the federal government. Federal registration gives you nationwide protection of your trademark and can also act as a barrier for others who try to create brands with names similar to yours, as it gives you an advantage against anyone who attempts to “infringe” upon your brand. Federal registration creates a presumption that forces the infringing party to try and prove that you are not the true owner of your brand.
Therefore, filing a trademark is really important for entrepreneurs who want to grow their business -- because the last thing you want to do is put in all the hard work to create brand recognition only for someone else to capitalize on the reward OR create huge momentum only to be hit with a lawsuit.
An additional item to note is that trademarks also exist to protect the consumer, who may be misled if a secondary company were to claim ownership of something that didn’t come from the original source. But again, this is only the case if it’s registered with the federal government.
How long do they last?
It’s easy to assume that the shelflife of trademarks and copyrights is ongoing, but there are some differences in how long they will protect your intellectual property.
Copyright protection can vary in length depending on a number of factors. Typically for work that’s created by an individual, the protection will stay in place for the duration of the author's life plus another 70 years. However, if the work is created for hire or anonymously, the protection will last either 120 years from when it was created or 95 years since the date of publication, depending on which one is shorter.
Trademarks, however, do not have expiration dates. Their duration is dependent on the actual use of the intellectual property and can last for as long as they’re being used to identify the goods or the services provided by the company. However, you do have to occasionally prove to the USPTO that you are still using your trademark to keep up your protection indefinitely.
Do they overlap?
Where it can get confusing is when there is an overlap, because both trademarks and copyright could be used to protect different elements of the same product. For example, when it comes to graphics and logos, trademarks will need to be registered to ensure you’re the only one in the market with rights to use them, while copyright protection can be used to protect the art in and of itself.
Whether you choose to register a Copyright vs. Trademark will depend solely on the nature of your specific business. If you’re still unsure which one applies to you or you’re ready to get proactive in protecting your intellectual property, we are here to help. Book your call to get started!