Your intellectual property needs to be protected, which is legally done through copyrights and trademarks. The difference between the two is not as clear-cut as you may imagine, so understanding the minuet differences is essential for the development of your business.
Trademarks are identifiers so they provide an identity for your business, you as the business owner, or any entities that are related to your business. The most common trademarks are logos, slogans, and symbols. Within this category there are a few subdivisions:
Arbitrary: This is for an identifier that is not related to the product or company in any capacity. An example of this is Dove chocolate.
Fanciful: These types of trademarks are non-identifying names, such as Pepsi. It has no meaning except for the reputation the company made for the word.
Suggestive: These are names that allude to what the business does, such as Krispy Kreme.
Product packaging and trade dress: This is physical shape of the product, such as the Mrs. Butterworth maple syrup bottle.
You also may be able to receive a trademark from a symbol if it is a clear representation to your company. For example, when Prince became The Artist Formerly Known As Prince, his symbol was trademarked. These trademarks should be completed through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Trademarks are meant to protect the representation of your business, while copyrights protect the work created by your business. This is important if your business is based around creative works like music, film, or any other forms of art. Since 1/1/78, copyrights last for the life of the creator and then seventy more years. If you are copyrighting a works for hire, the length will be 95 years from publication or 120 years from the creation.
Copyrighting may also be used for art that you use to market your business, like film or photography. All copyrights go through the U.S. Copyright Office.
Sometimes both of these options are applicable to what you are trying to protect, and that leads to a decision that includes a few factors.
Logos are a good example of something that could be covered under both of these options. If you or one of your employees has created your logo, it is a creative product of your business and may qualify for a copyright. If its purpose is to represent your company first and foremost, then it should be trademarked. If the logo that has been created by an individual at your business is simple, like a single shape, then it does not qualify for copyrighting.
The “why” for doing this is because these ideas and creations are your property. When you have rights over your intellectual property you can file infringement lawsuits, which becomes applicable if someone tries to use your symbol. If you are not registered, it is difficult to confirm that you used the logo first without proper documentation.
It should be a top priority to register the trademark for your logo once it is ready to go, even if you have not begun business yet. Go through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to ensure that your representation for your business is not already in use. If you have any questions, speak with an attorney for the answers.