It’s common to be confused about the difference between a copyright and a trademark. If you’re asking what the difference is between them, you’re not alone!
Copyrights and trademarks have very different purposes in the law. They both are important assets of a business and are among the 5 Types of Intellectual Property.
The Difference Between a Copyright and a Trademark
The purpose of a copyright is to protect the creator—an artist or inventor who makes a creative work and memorializes it in a tangible format.
In other words, a photographer takes a photo and the file saves on their camera, a writer types an article and it saves on their computer, or a visual artist paints a painting on their canvas.
The second the creator puts that work into that tangible format (saves the file, writes the word, paints the painting), then it is automatically protected by copyright law.
You can also register a copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office (or the corresponding copyright office in your country), which gives you additional rights and makes it easier to enforce your copyright—but you don’t have to do that to get basic protections.
Trademarks are very different—trademark law was originally developed to protect consumers.
If a consumer wants to buy a can of Pespi®, they should be able to go to a store, buy a can of something with that logo and the word “Pepsi®” on the can, and be confident that it is a real can of Pepsi® & not a counterfeit. If another company used the word “Pepsi” or even the same colors or symbols, it would be misleading to the potential customer.
Trademark law is designed so the customer can avoid confusion about the source of a particular product or service.
As a business owner, the name of your product or service, your tag line, and/or your logo, are typically your potential trademarks. There are some common law trademark protections that you get when you use your potential trademarks in conjunction with the sale of your product or service, but to get national protection, you will need to register that trademark with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (or the trademark office in your particular country).
While you can use trademark law to keep your competitors from using the same name, and trademarks are an asset of a business, the law is there first to protect consumers.
In many cases, a particular product or service will involve both copyrights and trademarks. For example, if you create a new online membership program, the content of the program and the sales page would be protected by copyright law, but the name of the program would be protected by trademark law.
Do you have more questions about the difference between a copyright and a trademark? Or any questions about intellectual property?
Try an EPW Small Business Law 15-Minute Quick Call to get clarity & move forward!