What’s the Difference Between Trademark and Copyright?

Emily Kate Pope

Emily Pope is the Managing Editor at Fundera. She specializes in all things small business finance, from lending to accounting. Questions for Emily? Comment below!

Is your business also a brand? Do you create original materials and assets for your business? If so, it’s important that you understand the difference between trademark and copyright?  

Brand value and intellectual property can be just as important as revenue when it comes to your business—and you may not realize these things require specific protection.

For instance: what if someone starts selling a product using your company name and logo as an endorsement without your permission? What if you run an ice cream truck, and suddenly a taco truck comes along using your same truck jingle to attract customers?

Fortunately, you have the right to file suit against people who use your brand and intellectual property without permission. Copyrights and trademarks make that possible. Both are known as “intellectual property protection”—but what’s the difference between trademark and copyright and how do you make use of them?

What’s the Difference Between Trademark and Copyright?

difference between trademark and copyright

What’s the difference between trademark and copyright?

The main differences between copyright and trademark is that while both offer protection, they protect different types of assets and have different registration requirements. 

In general, a copyright is geared toward literary and artistic materials and works, such as books and videos, and is automatically generated upon creation. A trademark protects items that help define a company brand, such as its logo or slogan, and require more extensive registration through the government. Read on for specifics.

Copyright: What You Need to Know

Still wondering what’s the difference between trademark and copyright? Don’t worry, we’ll dig into each.

According to the United States Copyright Office, copyright protects original works including “literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works.”

For example, you can copyright original writing, art, research, audio recordings, or video materials. Anything you create is considered automatically, internationally copyrighted by the creator at the time of creation.

There are many precautions you can take to make sure potential copyright infringers don’t use your work without permission.

For example, make sure your work is properly marked, such as signed or with a watermark, and that there’s a clear evolutionary footprint from the work to your business.  

Creative Commons is a great resource for those making things that need copyright protection. At a minimum, you can use the © symbol to denote a copyrighted work.

However, in case someone does use your work without your permission or otherwise infringes your copyright—and if it’s valuable enough—you’ll want to file a form, pay a fee, and send a copy of the work to the U.S. Copyright Office to officially copyright the work. This will make it much easier to sue over the use of your materials by another party under United States’ law, but it’s not always necessary.

The Difference Between Trademark and Copyright

U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) indicates that a trademark protects “words, names, symbols, sounds, or colors that distinguish goods and services from those manufactured or sold by others and to indicate the source of the goods.”

In other words, a company can register a trademark for anything that essentially brands the product or company.

The Tabasco bottle with hexagonal screw top? Trademarked.

“Footlong,” all one word? Trademarked by Subway sandwiches.

Anything that identifies your company can be registered as a trademark—so long as it’s not already registered by somebody else. Are you starting to see the difference between trademark and copyright?

You need to do a trademark search to ensure that your branding materials are not already in use, and because of the potential for legal headaches, you might want to hire an attorney to assist in trademark registration. But you can always file an application online in less than 90 minutes through the USPTO website.

How do you indicate if something is legally trademarked? Simply use ®, the symbol of the registered trademark. Note that this is only for brands that have gone through the formal process with the USPTO.

If you haven’t yet finished the process, the little ™ is used to signify common-law rights in a trademark similar to the way copyright law works. Again, just make sure what your trademarking isn’t already in use. And remember: just because something doesn’t have a symbol by it doesn’t mean it’s not legally trademarked.

Hopefully, by now, you’re no longer wondering what’s the difference between trademark and copyright. It’s important to know your intellectual property rights and protect yourself accordingly. Worst case scenario, another party devalues your brand or credibility when it could have been avoided. Make sure you’re properly protected today.

Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Emily Kate Pope

Emily Pope is the Managing Editor at Fundera. She specializes in all things small business finance, from lending to accounting. Questions for Emily? Comment below!

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