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Undoubtedly, building a successful business takes time and effort. But what if someone comes along and takes credit for your work or claims your ideas as their own?

The good news is intellectual property laws, such as trademarks and copyrights, can help. In fact, a 2022 report by World Intellectual Property Indicators found that trademark application in the U.S. alone was 899,678 in 2021.

Still, there might be situations where copyrighting your intellectual property might be the better choice. So, as a business owner considering a trademark or copyright to protect your intellectual property, which one should you use? To that end, we’ll answer questions like: 

  • How does a trademark differ from a copyright?
  • Do I need both a trademark and a copyright?
  • What does copyright or trademark protect?

And more. But first, let’s start with the basics.

What is a trademark?

Trademarks distinguish one business from another. You can trademark brand names, logos, words or phrases, a product or service and more. In other words, customers can easily identify your business as the source of a product or service with trademarks.

A trademark is established through the consistent use of a mark and therefore, you’ll use the trademark symbol (™). Registering a trademark isn’t a legal requirement, but once you do so, you can use the registered symbol (®). 

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) handles trademark applications. So once registration is complete, you’ll have the green light to use the registered symbol. 

Unauthorized use of your registered mark will grant you the right to sue for damages. With that in mind, how do you register for a trademark?

How to register a trademark

As stated earlier, a trademark is registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. 

To kick-start the trademark application process, you’ll need to conduct a search to determine whether your proposed trademark is already in use. 

The number of trademarks in force in the U.S. in 2021 was around 2.8 million. So it’s essential that you run this search before investing time, effort and money into the registration process. 

You can run a trademark search through the USPTO’s trademark database before filing a trademark application for your business name. 

You can file your application yourself or, better yet, hire a trademark lawyer for legal advice.

Trademark registration is a lengthy process. According to the USPTO, it can take up to 18 months owing to the various stages involved. 

To qualify for trademark protection or obtain trademark rights, ask yourself:

  • Is my trademark distinctive? For example, “fanciful” trademarks are the strongest. For example, made-up words such as “Pepsi.”
  • Is my trademark used in commerce? Commercial use is the basis of trademark rights. If you’re a new business owner, you can still file a trademark application, but registration won’t be complete until you prove that the mark is active or in actual use.

Let’s now move on to some trademark examples.

Examples of trademarks

De Beers, a diamond mining company, is a well-known trademark. Its brand slogan? “A diamond is forever.” No other company (in the diamond industry) can use this tagline unless they want to engage in a legal dispute with De Beers.

Let’s say you want to open a clothing store called “Zara.” You couldn’t do so since Zara — a well-known fashion brand- has trademarked this name.

But be careful: opening an online store that sells clothing with the name Zahara can also result in a trademark lawsuit since the names are confusingly similar.

That’s the power federal trademark registration holds.

Other well-known trademarks include brands like Starbucks, Sony and Coca-Cola. As for brand symbols, Spotify, for example, easily stands out from the crowd — curved lines on a green background.

Spotify’s registered logo

That said, how long does a registered trademark last? 

How long does trademark protection last?

Trademark protection lasts 10 years from the date of your application. It doesn’t expire — you’d have to renew it to keep it active. Failing to do so can cause the loss of legal protection. In other words, it would no longer be protected under federal law.

And when you consider that rebranding can be costly, especially for a small business owner, renewal can’t be an afterthought. 

Copyright law protects original works of authorship such as music, art, books, architecture, research, sound recordings, motion pictures and software code. 

The copyright owner has exclusive rights to display, reproduce, publish or perform the work. 

Registering a copyright isn’t necessary to warrant copyright protection. That’s because your work is automatically protected once it’s created. In essence, as long as your ideas or pieces of work are in tangible form (i.e., written), they fall under copyright.

That being said, registering copyright grants you the right to sue if someone uses or reproduces your copyrighted work without permission because you can easily prove you’re the original owner. 

For example, when you create a website or blog with WordPress, you’ll be up and running in no time. But once the dust settles, you can copyright your website content to avoid headaches while you work on building your brand.

Just note that since only work in a fixed form qualifies for copyright, works such as ideas and discoveries aren’t subject to copyright protection.

Again, only original pieces of work fall under federal copyright protection. So keep this in mind when registering for a copyright.

Copyright vs. trademark vs. patent are all forms of intellectual property
Source

Registering a copyright requires that you submit the following to the U.S. Copyright Office:

  • A completed application form. You can do this online or mail a paper form.
  • A filing fee — $45 if you register online and $125 for a paper version.
  • Copies of the works.

After copyright registration, expect to receive your certificate by mail. Once approved, you can use the copyright symbol (©). If the application is rejected, you’ll receive a letter explaining why.

In the U.S., copyright lasts for the life of the author/creator plus 70 years (for works created after January 1st, 1978). In addition, works created on or after January 1978 don’t necessitate renewal registration.

For anonymous works and works created for hire, copyright lasts 95 years from the first year of its first publication or 120 years from the year of its creation (whichever comes earlier).

It’s worth noting that works published before 1923 in the U.S. are in the public domain.

The difference between trademarks and copyrights is that trademarks protect what distinguishes your brand from another, like a slogan or logo, while copyrights protect literary, musical and artistic works such as a book or music.

Essentially, copyright prevents others from copying or reproducing your work, whereas a trademark prevents others from using confusingly similar brand names/phrases, otherwise known as trademark infringement.

Nevertheless, they both offer intellectual property protection.

The importance of trademarks and copyrights

Trademarks and copyrights provide the owners with various benefits. We touched on one of these benefits earlier — suing for infringement.

For example, the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) was entangled in a trademark dispute with another WWF (the World Wildlife Fund) for 13 years. The wrestling company had to spend millions on rebranding after the court ruled in favor of the Wildlife company.

Taking infringers to court also applies to copyrights. According to the U.S. Copyright Office, “The copyright owners of any of these works can pursue infringers by filing lawsuits in federal district courts.” 

Nonetheless, it can be costly for a small business owner to file a federal lawsuit.

The good news? The Copyright Claims Board (CCB) was established as an alternative to filing a federal case — copyright owners can seek up to $30,000 in damages for copyright infringement.

Here are other reasons why you should register for a copyright or trademark:

  • Customers associate a registered trademark with high-quality products or services, so trademarks help you build trust.
  • A trademark prevents other vendors from marketing products identical to yours under a similar mark, which eliminates confusion among customers.
  • A copyright holder, like an author, can benefit from movie adaptations of their book. From this, they can earn a passive income for years to come.
Once you formally register for a copyright or trademark, you can sue for copyright or trademark infringement
Source

If you still have lingering questions about trademark vs. copyright, we’ve compiled a list of some of the most frequently asked questions.

Do you need both a copyright and a trademark?

It depends. That’s because you may require either or both, depending on what asset you want to protect. It’s common for businesses to use both to shield their intellectual property.

Do you need both a copyright and a trademark?

It depends. That’s because you may require either or both, depending on what asset you want to protect. It’s common for businesses to use both to shield their intellectual property. 

Do trademarks override copyrights?

No. Trademarks don’t override copyrights because the two forms of intellectual property rights serve different purposes.

Can I get a copyright for free?

Yes. As soon as you create original work, the material is automatically copyrighted. However, to prevent anyone from infringing upon your copyright, you’ll have to register it.

Do you copyright or trademark a company?

When it comes to your company name or brand identity, these are trademarked (not copyrighted) because they distinguish your business from others.

How do copyrights, trademarks and patents differ?

Like copyrights and trademarks, a patent is a type of intellectual property. As with a copyright or trademark, what’s protected under a patent is where there’s a distinction. Patents protect an original invention. In contrast, a trademark protects a business’s unique assets, while a copyright protects original works.
And similar to a trademark, a patent is acquired through the USPTO.

All in all, intellectual property laws exist to safeguard your work and business against improper use. Whether you register copyrights or trademark your brand, you’ll rest easy knowing nobody can take undue advantage of what belongs to you.

If you’re looking to partner with a web hosting provider that sets you up for success, look no further than Bluehost. 

We provide features (and expert guidance) that will enable you to build, market and maintain your online business without the need for technical know-how. 

Check out Bluehost’s website hosting plans today.

  • Minal Agarwal

    Minal is the Director of Brand Marketing at Bluehost. With over 15 years of business experience in the technology industry, she strives to create solutions and content that fulfill a customer's needs. She is a dog mom and a stickler for calendaring.

    Education
    Masters in Marketing Management
    Previous Experience
    Strategic Partnerships, Customer Success, Events and Community
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5 Comments

  1. John B. Turay Reply

    I’ve learnt about copyright and trademark.
    But not so much yet about ISBN.
    What’s the advantage of registratering for ISBN?

    • Kyle Bombardier Reply

      Hey John, an ISBN uniquely identifies your book, crucial for sales and distribution (especially as you scale up). It ensures your book is easily found and ordered by bookstores and libraries, boosting its visibility. It’s a big step towards professional publishing. Head to Bowker at https://isbn.org/ to learn more.

  2. Good information on trademark and copyright. People generally for confused and thinks both are same but there are some technical differences. Thank you for the post.

  3. Manuel Diaz Reply

    What happened if a trade mark is registered and approved by the USPTO for a particular individual while a copyrght was granted by the copyright office to another individual to similar material ! Which one will prevail the trade mark issued by the USPTO or the copyright issued by the copyright office !

    • Kyle Bombardier Reply

      Trademark law and copyright law protect different types of intellectual property: trademarks protect brand identifiers, while copyrights protect original works of authorship. Neither automatically prevails over the other; resolution depends on how the rights intersect and are applied. An intellectual property (IP) lawyer can best help you in this case.

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