By: Raad Ahmed
There’s a lot to consider when you’re creating a company, and it’s easy for things to slip through the cracks. If there’s one part you really need to get right, it’s protecting your intellectual property—but how can you figure out what sort of protection you need? Read on to learn which property needs a trademark and which needs a copyright.
If you’ve created an “original work of authorship,” your creation should qualify for copyright protection. Such works could include books, works of art, web articles, movies, photographs, and other creations that have been “fixed in any tangible medium of expression,” as the Copyright Act of 1976 puts it.
Copyright protection entitles you to control the distribution of your creation. No one else may reproduce your copyrighted work, or show it to the public without your permission.
Note that only the form of expression is protected by a copyright—not the content of what you’ve created. This is a crucial consideration if you’ve invented a product, for example. You can copyright a description of the product, but unless you’ve also obtained a patent, it would be entirely legal for someone else to start manufacturing your invention. Your description is protected by the copyright, but your ideas are not.
Interestingly, copyright protection is automatic. As soon as you create the work, it’s copyrighted. Yet it’s often advisable to go through the process of registering your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office anyway. This is because a registered copyright could help you win in litigation someday. In fact, registration is required if you wish to sue for copyright infringement.
If your startup creates large amounts of content—or, really, if you’ll be creating any content that you wouldn’t want someone else to pass off as their own—it’s best to become at least somewhat familiar with copyright law and the process of registering a copyright.
Many of the things you create in the course of business may qualify to be registered as trademarks, rather than being copyrighted. The differences between the two types of objects aren’t immediately obvious.
Trademarks can be applied to names, logos, phrases, and symbols: anything that can be used to determine the source of goods, and to distinguish your company’s goods from others in the marketplace. Perhaps the most typical example of an object that can be trademarked is a slogan.
You’ll recall from the discussion above that a copyright protects the form, not the content, of your creation. In a similar manner, a trademark protects only the trademarked object itself, not the goods sold under that mark.
Unlike copyrights, trademarks are not automatic. You’ll need to file for trademark protection with the United States Patent and Trademark office. Most trademark litigation centers around the sale of counterfeit goods. So, if you plan to build your company into a brand that is valuable enough for others to infringe on for their own gain, you’ll want to make sure all your trademarks are in order.
Since there is so much at stake here, it’s really best to talk to an attorney about your business, your plans for your brand, and your specific needs when it comes to trademark protection.#Trademark #Copyright