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Trademark or Copyright? You May Need Both

By Deanne Katz, Esq. | Last updated on

Protecting your intellectual property with a trademark or copyright is key to protecting your business. Intellectual property represents the unique aspects of your business and is often tied to profits.

Sure, protecting your copyrights and trademarks can be a confusing process. But once you know the rules, it's easy to figure out how to protect yourself.

Basically, you just need to understand what protections apply to which creations.

First, let's get the definitions out of the way.

A copyright protects a "work of art" such as a song, a piece of writing, or a design. A trademark protects words, phrases, or images that distinguish your business from others.

If you just create something for its own merit, it likely deserves a copyright. But things created to identify your business for customers should be protected by a trademark.

If that's not clear enough, consider an example: Blog posts written on your website can be copyrighted, as can any videos you make. But your company logo, name, and tagline should be protected by trademarks.

Knowing the difference is one thing. But protecting your property is the important part.

The good news is that copyrights are relatively easy to protect. As soon as the work is created, it is considered protected by copyright. There's also the option to register your copyrighted work.

Registration makes it easier to prove when you first created the work, which is important in an infringement suit. Your attorney can help you file the necessary paperwork.

You can choose to protect your copyright from any infringement, but if you don't, then it won't affect your option to enforce it later on. Copyrights are valid until they expire, and no lack of enforcement can change that.

For a trademark, registration and protection are more important. Talk to your attorney about that too when you bring up intellectual property.

You must apply for a trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and can't use the trademark symbol until your mark has been registered. Once it's registered, trademark owners must make reasonable efforts to protect their mark from "dilution." If others use the mark without your permission, it can weaken your right to use it exclusively.

Intellectual property is part of what helps identify your business to your customers and provides a service to them as well. Understanding how to protect that isn't just a luxury, it's a necessity.

Want to learn more about trademarks and copyrights? Download FindLaw's free mini guides on How to Register a Trademark and How to Register a Copyright.

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