Trademarks and copyrights both serve to protect the legal rights of business entities and/or individuals. They are not, however, interchangeable. That being the case, it is extremely important to know the difference between the two.
A trademark is a legal way to protect the unauthorized use of a unique and recognizable design or expression of words, which serve to identify the source of a product or service of a particular entity. A trademark owner can be an individual, a business or any legal entity. Trademarks are often displayed on packaging, letterhead, places of business or directly on a product. Trademarks serve to distinguish an entity’s product or service from another entity’s for the purpose of capturing the attention of consumers. Trademarks can be an invaluable advertising tool.
Copyright grants exclusive ownership and authority to distribute an original “creative work.” Typically, copyrights are not necessarily “absolute” and are subject to limitations and exceptions, including fair use. Copyrights are limited to the protection of an original “expression” and not the underlying concepts that go along with it.
Copyrights are considered to be “territorial rights.” What this means is that they do not extend beyond their jurisdictional territory; specifically, from country to country. Each country is governed by their own copyright laws although there are some instances wherein international copyright agreements may come into play.
One major difference between trademark and copyright, aside from what they each protect, is the length of time that they are in force. Trademarks are legally enforceable for an undetermined period of time as long as they are continually in use and active, though a formal registration needs to be renewed at regular intervals. On the other hand, copyrights are enforceable for the natural life of the creator plus and additional period of time, generally 70 years after the original creator’s death.
Additionally, some trademarks are eligible for protection by copyright if they meet certain criteria. Confused yet? To find out how to best protect you work product, it is always best to consult with a legal professional to determine what is best for you. Contact our office for a phone interview to see if we can help with your copyright or trademark.
Sarah E. Holmes is a Philadelphia business attorney and strategist that helps start ups and established businesses looking to expand, protect their assets and increase their profits in an approachable, down-to-earth way.