We talk a lot about differentiation, and the importance of finding their why. But once you’ve found it, do you know how to make sure you can protect the brand value proposition you’ll communicate?
Here’s what you need to know about registered marks, trademarks, and copyrights. They’re not created equally, and each one has a specific benefit.
The Trademark ™
A trademark ™ can be used to safeguard words, phrases, symbols, graphics, and other advertising devices designed to brand a company and its products in ways that distinguish from competitors.
Be careful if you decide to use that ™ symbol. It has a double meaning. It’s used by companies who actually have an approved trademark registration from the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), but it can also be used by any company in the process of applying for a trademark registration. Yes, you can use it as a way to say, “Back off! We’re in the process of registering this.”
What happens if you use a word, phrase, symbol, or graphic that has been registered with the USPTO and granted as trademarked? The actual holder of trademark owner has to prove they were using it before you, and they have to demonstrate that your use of the trademark confuses the public from distinguishing the source.
The Registered ® Trademark
You can use the trademark ™ as a preemptive way to communicate that you’re actively in pursuit of a registration. Let that go when you actually receive the registration from the USPTO. Now it’s time to use the more powerful registered trademark ® symbol. No other company is able to legally justify or safeguard work that is too similar to what you’ve registered.
Registering a trademark gives you powerful protective rights – especially in the USA. This strong protection is why registered trademark infringement cases are usually settled out of court. A properly registered trademark gives you the right to demand treble damages against any infringer. Trademark registrations generally last for 10 years and must be renewed to remain enforceable.
The Copyright ©
Add the symbol to something you write. There. You’ve just copyrighted it. There’s no formal application to the USPTO necessary. The copyright is a symbol of automatic legal recognition of ownership, which basically says, “I own this.”
Apply the copyright symbol to any original work of music, literature, drama, visual art (your logo), and architecture. As the copyright holder, you have the exclusive right to distribute, reproduce, and profit from it.
It’s like an unregistered trademark ™ symbol in some ways. You’re free to use the © symbol to indicate intellectual property ownership, but you have relatively little legal recourse to protect it unless you formally register it with the United States Copyright Office. It grants you enforceable copyright protection that remains in effect for 70 years after your death.
The “death” part provides deeper perspective into the difference between trademark and copyright protection. Trademarks usually apply to commercial names and logos, protecting the use of a company’s name and the things that communicate its brand identity – such as logos and slogans. It’s what you want for your business. Copyrights primarily protect the rights of individuals who create intellectual property such as music, movies, or even software.
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