Trademark vs Copyright: A Guide for Entrepreneurs

Man in suite with a light bulb above his head

From efficient methods of management to the final step of a production process, each business has defining aspects that separate them from competitors. And while all aspects combine to create the company’s unique brand and reputation, intellectual property is perhaps the most important component when it comes to distinguishing a business’ identity.

Intellectual property is a business’ original branding and marketing materials, including any logos, slogans, graphics or written content created by the business’ staff members. Although many of these are not physical materials, every business faces the risk of having intellectual properties stolen. This is where trademarks, copyrights and patents become vital necessities.

Trademark vs Copyright: Trademarks

Trademarks are necessary when protecting the rights to a company’s name, the names or designs of its original products or specific marketing phrases. Developed to provide exclusivity to the creative materials of individual businesses, trademarks make it illegal for other companies to profit from ideas that were not originally developed to market their products or services. Trademarks also protect consumers by eliminating the risk of marketplace confusion.

Once registered by a business, a legal trademark will remain valid for ten years before expiring and releasing the protected content. Businesses can choose to renew a trademark before its initial expiration date but must prove that the content is still being used commercially.

The following are examples of appropriate trademark usage.

Business Names, Logos and Slogans

According to Entrepreneur Magazine, the images of trademarked brand names and logos and the sounds of marketing jingles and slogans directly influence a business’ profits by communicating intellectual and emotional messages with consumers based on their previous experiences or expectations of a product. Though minor, the image of a business’ logo combined with the sound of its commercial jingle is often enough to persuade a consumer to make a purchase, making these materials extremely important to protect.

  • The slogan, “Have it your way™” is trademarked and can only legally be used as a method of marketing by Burger King™.
  • The simple logo image used by Apple™ has become a worldwide icon and is recognized by millions. Because of its trademark, it can only be legally printed for commercial use by the company.

Product Features

When developing useful products to attract consumers, many businesses that produce common items will add unique characteristics to their product lines. These unique characteristics can add more appeal in the marketplace when shelved next to similar items and can ultimately beat the sales of competing products. For this reason, it’s vital that businesses trademark their creative designs to keep them unique and unused by competing companies.

  • The breakable format of the Kit Kat™ is trademarked by the company and cannot legally be used in the production of any other candy bar, making this specific brand of chocolate the only choice of its kind for consumers.
  • The contour glass bottle with fluting used by Coca-Cola™ is unique to all other beverage bottles, and it is trademarked by the company to keep its packaging exclusive.

Trademark vs Copyright: Copyrights

Copyrights become a necessity when a business publicly displays original content produced by its employees, and also when an author, artist or filmmaker publishes original work. The work must be available to the public in a tangible form, such as books, songs, films, computer programs and other physical forms of expression.

Designed to prevent other businesses and individuals from profiting from the original ideas expressed through stolen material, copyrights remain valid for 95 years once they are established. If the owner of the content chooses not to renew the copyright, it will expire and release the rights to the protected materials.

The following are examples of appropriate copyright usage.

Film Scripts and Song Lyrics

Through legal copyrights, filmmakers protect the rights to their scripts, plotlines and ideas expressed through their films, as songwriters protect their lyrics, melodies and instrumental composition. To cover a copyrighted song, reproduce a copyrighted film or adapt a published book into a film, official rights may be purchased from the content’s original owner.

  • “I Will Always Love You” is a song that was originally written and performed by Dolly Parton in 1973. However, it is now popularly associated with Whitney Houston after the artist purchased and performed the song in 1982.
  • Widely recognized for its suspenseful theme song, the content of the film, Jaws, is protected under a copyright.

Software

Going beyond original lyrics, scripts and ideas, software can be copyrighted to protect specific coding, design, sequence and structure organization. This helps support the work of software developers by creating legal exclusivity for their products. When software is copyrighted, its original functions and methods are protected, making it illegal for another software company to make a similar product with slightly different coding.

  • Designed as a tool for media management, iTunes is a copyrighted software that protects its unique format and features.
  • Due to its copyright protection, Microsoft Powerpoint is one of the most popular software options for digital presentations and has no major competitors.

A Note on Patents

While trademarks protect original products and marketing materials and copyrights protect original creative content, patents provide protection for new inventions and methods of production. Designed to recognize businesses and individual inventors for creating products to carry out new functions, patents make it illegal for others to create similar products with the same function. Once granted, a patent will remain valid for 20 years and cannot be renewed by the owner once it expires.

Turn Your Original Ideas into Realities at Alvernia University

Whether they require a trademark, copyright or patent, your ideas are important. Alvernia University can help you transform your ideas into realities with its online BS in Business Management or online MBA. By earning your degree online with Alvernia, you’ll have the freedom to complete your coursework on your own schedule while you gain the skills you’ll need to be successful in your career. Engage with a staff of experienced professors who are dedicated to your success as you access countless online resources, including an eLibrary and tutoring opportunities.  Start achieving your goals with Alvernia University.