One of the first things people often ask is “I have this great name for a product – how do I get a copyright for it?” Well, what you really need in order to protect that clever name or slogan is a trademark. While the terms “trademark” and “copyright” are easily distinguishable to intellectual property lawyers, they often just seem like interchangeable legalese to the public. In fact, a lot of really smart lawyers can not tell the difference between a trademark and a copyright.
A trademark protects the name, slogan or logo associated with a product or service. Think “Coca-Cola®” or “Don’t leave home without it.®” A trademark is a valuable business asset because it’s one of the key ways in which consumers distinguish your product or service from that of your competitor. You have put a lot of time and energy – and spent valuable money – into developing the perfect name, slogan or logo. As a result, you should protect that asset just like you would the materials and equipment that you use to create your product or perform your service. The best way to protect your trademark is by filing an application for federal registration with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”). While the federal registration process can be slow, it is a worthwhile investment in your business and its future.
A copyright, on the other hand, protects the original, creative expression of literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works. Think books, songs or screenplays. Copyrights are secured automatically upon creation by the author so formal registration with the United States Copyright Office is not required. However, copyright registration is required if you ever need to file a lawsuit for copyright infringement and to obtain damages.
So, if you’re looking to protect a clever name, slogan or logo, a trademark is what you will need. If you want to protect the novel that you’ve been working on for years, a copyright is the way to go.
Erin A. Mutty is a Partner at O’Connell, Attmore & Morris with a wealth of experience assisting clients with trademark and copyright protection.