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You’ve spend so much time working on your business. You’ve chosen a business name and quite possibly invested money into creating a logo that resonates with your audience. Now you’re wondering . . . should I legally secure my business name and logo?
As the owner of IntreXDesign & Associates, I too grappled with those same considerations. I started with understanding the differences between copyright and trademark law; so I research it.
Given I’m a graphic designer and not a lawyer (therefore don’t take this as legal advice) I can share with you my learned experiences and why I made the decisions I made in my business.
It maybe helpful to know, there are certain advantages given to you under the law. Whether you choose to take the next step and secure a trademark is up to you.
Are Copyright And Trademark The Same Thing?
The short answer to the question is, no. Both copyright and trademark legislation, can offer protection under intellectual property law.
To understand intellectual property law, let’s address the definition. Intellectual property is a form of original content or creative thought. It can be tangible (touchable) or intangible (not touchable). How the content or thought is expressed—(say in a media format . . . which is considered “fixed”)—determines it’s authorship. This includes works like symbols, designs, or processes (published or unpublished)—which someone has developed or created.
This is how both statutes are similar.
Copyright protects the creation of original, literary or artistic work(s) of expression. It does not protect the ideas themselves. More about this in a moment.
A trademark protects words, names, symbols, devices, or any combination, used to identify and distinguish one seller’s goods and services from another seller.
The difference between copyright and trademark protection is specifically addressed below.
How Copyright Law Protects Creative Work Under Your Business
The original work of authorship is copyright protected the moment it’s created and fixed in a tangible form (this agreement made it possible). Therefore, when a work is noticeable either visually or auditory or with the assistance of an aided machine or device, it’s protected. The Copyright Office can officially record ownership if you’d like to register it.
A Copyright symbol (©) protects the creation of original, literary or artistic work(s) of expression. This includes: poetry, novels, movies, musicals, songs, books, graphics, drawings, architectural renderings, paintings, photographs, sculptures, computer software, and audio and video recordings. In general, if someone created it; then it’s automatically copyrighted.
The copyright notice is a statement informing the public that ownership is being claimed on a published work. The notice is optional for works created after March 1, 1989, but should be included on works prior to this date. The use of the copyright notice is the responsibility of the copyright owner and does not require advance permission from, or registration with, the Copyright Office.
How To Use The Copyright (©) Symbol And Where Does The Copyright Symbol Go?
The correct way to use the copyright notice, includes the following elements:
- The copyright symbol © (phonorecords, the symbol ℗)
- The word “copyright”
- The year of first publication of the work
- Name of copyright owner
The proper way to add a copyright notice is as follows: “© 2021 John Doe” or “Copyright 1980 John Doe”
The copyright symbol should be legible, visible, and affixed to original work claimed by it’s creator. You will usually see the copyright symbol set in small text and placed on the claimed work. Some items like greeting cards, postcards, stationary, jewelry, dolls, and toys can omit the copyright notice. For more information, see the official copyright document for specific regulations or placement of copyright notice.
If you’re wondering where the copyright symbol is on the keyboard, you’ll find it on a mac: “option/G” or on windows: “Alt + 0169“. Likewise, the trademark symbol on the keyboard on mac “option/R” or windows “Alt + 9415“.
What’s Not Protected By Copyright Law?
Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these items are expressed.
A Look At Trademark And
Why Trademark (™) Is Important
A trademark typically protects brand names and logos. It can also protect words, phases, symbols, or designs which identify the ownership of goods or services—particularly among different parties. A trademark (TM) identifies goods, while service marks (SM) identify services. According to the video on the United States Patent and Trademark website, the use of (TM) allows you to claim rights to use the mark, thus putting others on notice. According to the documentation, no registration is necessary for the (TM) or (SM) use, but it does not grant you the rights and benefits of federal registration.
Think of it this way. It’s an extra layer of security to protect your mark. Federally registering your mark grants you the exclusive ownership of that mark and is documented in the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
Some Trademark Guidelines
When carefully considering trademark, start with some guidelines.
- It is advisable to conduct your own search before filing an application with The United States Patent and Trademark Office. It’s free and online
- If your search does not turn up any conflicts it doesn’t mean your in the clear, only an attorney can accurately cross reference all databases to determine whether your eligible for registration
When applying for trademark, a search will be conducted to identify whether your mark is eligible for use (a mark should not conflict with any other goods or services). The search will determine if federal registration can occur; and whether federal registration is possible.
What does the R (®) symbol mean?
A registration mark (®) is a symbol used to provide notice that the mark has been registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
Why Should You Trademark Your Business Name Or Logo?
A reason to apply for trademark protection is that federal registration is required before an infringement suit may be brought. Trademark owners may sue for infringement when they believe others have used their mark or business name without permission or compensation. Many choose to register their mark or business name because they wish to have it noted on public record, and a certificate of registration. To apply for trademark registration, the following steps occur: fill out a form, pay a fee, and send a copy of your logo or word mark to the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
- Trademark expenses are tax deductible
- Trademarks are optional when starting a business
- Registered trademarks can be important and enforceable should you need to claim legal ownership against another business
- Trademarks are renewable
Undecided About Whether You Should Trademark?
Registering a logo or wordmark is really up to you. Standard copyright law offers some protection the moment it’s created. But it does not grant you exclusive ownership of the logo you created—simply because there’s no legal document. Any of us can be challenged on how we use a logo and whether its a conflict of interest with another party. Registering a logo for trademark is the only way to prove you’ve been given exclusive ownership by the federal government. If granted, legal documents can support claims of ownership.
Should you choose to invest in a trademark, most applicants seek a private trademark attorney for legal advice. An attorney can assist in the registration process and avoid any pitfalls. But not all applications become registered.
Trademark Is A Personal Choice
On a personal note, the decision I made to trademark my business name and logo took place years ago. When my business name and identity was a dream. At that time, I felt it was necessary to secure a long-standing business name that reflected the origins of my story and brand. It was also more economical back then to pay the fee and register the name and mark. With that said, I continue to maintain the registered word mark and identity every ten years.
- There’s never been a conflict when someone searches for graphic design services under my business name
- Should anyone use my business name in direct competition to my services, trademark grants me the exclusive right to say it’s an infringement and I can take legal action
- Should I choose to market and distribute my artwork to third parties such as manufacturers and distributors; I’m able to ensure my brand is protected by license since I have a trademark
This leads to my last word of personal, not legal advice. Weigh carefully whether the investment is worth the registration. If you’re brand name and identity will be part of a large company it maybe worth securing it through trademark. If you’re a smaller business the rights already granted to you maybe enough.
Here’s the trade-off you make without registration.
- There could be a business using the same business name or logo in your industry—causing confusion in the marketplace. If they have a trademark they could ask you to cease using yours
- It maybe harder to protect your business name and identity from unauthorized uses
- Licensing is the best advantage for trademark. The owner can sell the rights to a third party to use their trademark and receive monetary benefits
When Creating A Logo Or Rebranding Your Business
IntreXDesign & Associates has created many unique logos to brand businesses. The more distinctive a businesses logo or wordmark is the more likely your identity will be special to your business—especially if you choose not to trademark it.
Think carefully how your business can use existing symbols to make your business stand out. The idea is to make your business as different as possible, thus giving you a competitive advantage. Customizing your logo is one way to do this. It gives you exclusive rights to use your identity in the marketplace without trademark.
In the end, the more original your business is the less likely you’ll need to register your business name and logo. In the Case Study: Logo Design For Treehouse Reading and Arts Center, this business owner created a special business model then wrapped her identity with a symbol already familiar to her audience.