One of the most common things we find ourselves explaining is the difference between the types of intellectual property. While it’s a slippery thing to understand, gaining basic knowledge into the core differences between them can mean is very important. Adequately protecting yourself against intellectual property theft will help strengthen the legal bubble surrounding your company’s assets. Knowledge is power, and we’re your best defense: here’s what you need to know about copyrights vs. trademarks.
Copyrights are, at their most basic, a legal way of saying ‘I created this and it is mine.’ Copyrights are the most clear-cut out of the two, and even our Constitution has wording directly related to it. A copyright is a creative piece that has been fixed into a tangible form, whether that is through a song, a book, a blog post, or even choreography. You are able to copyright almost anything that you have personally created, as long as it is creative and original. For example, if you write a novel about, say, dentist vampires, no one else can publish your dentist vampire novel without your expressed permission. This is an example of where copyright protection comes in: if you created it and made it unique, no one else can copy your unique thing. Unfortunately, it doesn’t apply to a concept – only the tangible thing. If someone wanted to write a book about dentist vampires going to a carnival, they’re more than welcome to (even if no one wants to read it).
A trademark is a different battle than a copyright. While a copyright refers to a specific, creative thing, trademarks refer to symbols, phrases, or words that reference a thing. Pepsi cannot trademark soda, but they can trademark their distinctive red and blue logo. Trademarks were initially designed not to protect companies from infringement, but from stopping consumers from getting confused about the product or service, they are purchasing. A trademark is used to refer to something that sets your company apart from other companies. Where it can get a little muddy is when people trademark, or attempt to trademark, something that refers to more than just your specific thing. Short words and phrases become an uncomfortable gray territory, so making your trademark as distinct as possible is a good defense against any future issues.
While the two are very separate, copyrights and trademarks do overlap. Companies should often have protection against both copyright and trademark infringement, and both can be formally registered with the U.S. Government to avoid any hassle. While registering a trademark is a more complicated process than simply copyright, copyright also tends to have more loopholes that help avoid infringement. Your best method is to work with a professional to ensure that you’re secure on all fronts.