Do you own a business? Or are you an author, photographer, or composer who openly publishes your work?
If you answer yes to any of these questions, then it might be beneficial to ask yourself: “Do I own any trademarks? Have I published any works that need copyright protection?”
You may even ask yourself: “What is the difference between a copyright and a trademark?”
A trademark is defined as “a symbol, words, stylized words, or combination of words and design legally registered or established by use as a source identifier of a company or product”.
If you provide a product or service of enough value to stay in business, consumers will start to associate the name of your company with that product or service. Trademarks could be words like STARBUCKS, NIKE, APPLE, and MR. COFFEE, plus the designs that go with those word marks.
For example, you know to look for a red and white target icon to find a Target store. This is the power of a trademark: each time a consumer sees its words or designs, they automatically think of the products sold under the trademark.
Thus, if you operate a business and use a particular name and logo to market your services and products, you own a trademark.
Next question: do you need to register the trademark in the state in which you do business? When do you need to register it with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)?
A trademark registration in the state where you started your business can serve as evidence of initial trademark use in commerce. It notifies businesses within the state that you claim that trademark for your business.
A trademark registration with the USPTO provides you with:
- Official documentation of trademark ownership
- Presumption of exclusive right to use the registered trademark in commerce
- Registration appears on the USPTO’s on-line trademark database, which is open to the public to search
- Right to use the ® symbol next to your trademark, which tells the public it is a registered trademark
- Right to exclude importation of counterfeit or similarly branded goods from foreign companies
- US registration can be the basis for an international registration of the trademark if you decide to expand into foreign markets
- Presumption of validity gives you an advantage in terms of the burden of proof in a trademark infringement lawsuit
A U.S. trademark registration is good for 5 years. Between the years 5 and 6, the owner of the trademark must file a Declaration of Continued Use and Incontestability to keep the US registration. If the declaration is accepted by the USPTO, then the owner must file a renewal on the 10th year—and then every 10 years after that, as long as the trademark continues to be used in commerce.
What is a Copyright?
If you own a business that sells original paintings, original books, or original photographs, you should consider registering copyrights for your creative intellectual property.
U.S. copyright law protects qualifying original works of authorship that are fixed in a tangible form of expression. Copyrightable works include the following:
- Literary works
- Musical works, including any accompanying lyrics
- Dramatic works, including accompanying music
- Pantomimes and choreographic works
- Pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
- Motion pictures and other audio-visual works
- Sound recordings
- Architectural works
These categories are not all inclusive, but they do illustrate the broad variety of works that may be protected by a copyright. The categories can expand to include computer software code, websites, and how-to manuals for products.
Copyrights may be registered through the U.S. Copyright Office. A copyright registration grants the owner of the registration the exclusive right to:
- Reproduce the work
- Distribute the work
- Modify the work
- Publicly display or perform the work
Copyright registration is good for the life of the author plus 70 years. If the copyright registration is for a work made for hire, then the period of protection is 95 years.
As you can see, it is very possible that, as a business owner, you will need to both register your trademarks and obtain copyright registrations. If you need help figuring out the types of registrations your company needs to protect its intellectual property assets, it may be time to consult a legal professional specializing in IP law.