Intellectual property (IP) is an umbrella term which covers any original intangible products of the mind—inventions, creative works, or brands—that are used for commercial purposes. If you are searching for the best means to protect your intellectual property against misuse or stealing, you might also be wondering whether your intellectual property is, exactly. Generally, intellectual property is protectable as a trademark, copyright, or patent. This post will focus on the first two—trademark and copyright—and help you understand the main differences and the protection they can provide you.
Why You Need to Understand the Different Types of Intellectual Property
Creators are often confused with the different terms used in intellectual property law. And for good reason—a slight misunderstanding could potentially lead to a legal battle over your rights in your own creation. Failing to understand what kind of intellectual property you have risks losing those property rights altogether.
How Copyrights Differ from Trademarks
Many people confuse copyrights and trademarks. However, they differ in purpose and are handled by different federal government offices.
- Purpose. While copyright protects works that are creative or original, a trademark protects commercial names, slogans, and logos. Therefore, authors who create their musical pieces, literary writing, software code, or other forms of original works generally receive copyright protection. Companies trying to protect the identity of their brand need trademark protection
- Government Agency. Copyright applications are managed and granted by the U.S. Copyright Office. Trademark applications are examined and registered by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
There are certain circumstances when something may qualify for both trademark and copyright protection, for instance, a particularly original logo. Consulting with an Intellectual Property (IP) attorney becomes especially important in these circumstances. An IP attorney can help you understand the law clearly and develop a strategy to protect your works to the fullest extent of the law.
Protections Granted by Copyright
Copyright protection attaches to an original work as soon as it is published. The author retains exclusive rights for the printing, distribution, or display of their works. While copyright registration is not necessary, there are certain benefits to registration, including the ability to seek statutory damages in an infringement case.
When you submit your work or product for copyright registration, the U.S. Copyright Office will check to see that it meets the following qualifications: it is an original creation, and it is fixed in a tangible medium. A tangible medium means that there is some definite form to the work, be it on paper, canvas, recording, or hard disk.
One of the best things about the copyright act is the length of protection. The term for a copyright is the lifetime of the author plus 75 years. So even after your death, any work you copyright will continue to receive legal protection.
Rights Under Trademarks
While trademark statutes are directed to commercial statutes, their ultimate purpose is consumer protection. Trademark laws are intended to protect “source identifiers” of goods and services, and thereby ensure that consumers will not be misled by a similar business name or image. Registering your trademark with the USPTO gives you the benefit of nationwide protection over your mark and prevents someone in a remote geographic area from coopting the goodwill you have built around your brand.
If your goal is to differentiate your brand identity with your competitors and ensure that your market stays loyal to you, you should apply for trademark protection. When you register a trademark, other companies are prohibited from using your registered mark or any confusingly similar mark.
The process of registering your trademark can get complicated. Before filing an application, it is necessary to perform a search not just for identical marks, but for any marks that could be confusingly similar. A trademark attorney can review your application before submission and assist you in a trademark search. If another business has a similar symbol, chances are, your application will be rejected or revisions will be necessary before your trademark will register.
You may check the federal trademark database and even specify which state you would like to check for potential close matches to your intended brand name or logos.
Both trademark and copyright law can protect your creativity and your business. If you need help understanding or registering your intellectual property rights, or if you want to file an infringement claim against a third party who is using your intellectual property, contact our IP attorneys from War IP Law, PLLC at 202-800-3754 and schedule a no-hassle consultation with us today.