What’s The Difference Between Trademark And Copyright?

I often hear people use the terms trademark and copyright interchangeably and it drives me nuts. In fact, it’s one of my husband’s favorite ways to ruffle my feathers. However, these two terms are very different, but I can understand how they get confused. In this article, I’m going to try and break it down as easily as possible. Here we go. 

They Protect Different Things (Usually)

While there is some overlap between the two, generally things will only be protected by trademark or copyright. For example, the things most commonly protected by trademarks are business names, brand names, product names, and logos. Almost every business can benefit from trademark registration, while copyrights are usually only beneficial for certain types of clients like authors, artists, and musicians.

Copyright protections are usually used for things like books, songs, movies, speeches, plays, etc. However, designs are eligible for copyright protection too, so logos can be both trademarked and copyrighted. Other designs that are protected by copyright include website designs, product labels, and book covers.

Tip: As a general rule of thumb, if it’s short, think trademark. If it’s long, think copyright. 

They Are Filed With Different Offices

Trademarks are federally registered through the United States Patent and Trademark Office also called the USPTO. Each state also has a way to register trademarks, usually through their Secretary of State. 

Copyrights are registered through the U.S. Copyright Office, which is a part of the Library of Congress. There is no state-level copyright registration. 

They Last For Different Amounts of Time

In theory, trademarks can last forever as long as they meet certain requirements. This is not true for copyrights. After a certain amount of time, copyrighted materials enter what is called the “public domain.” This means they are generally free to use by everyone. For example, the “Happy Birthday” song just entered the public domain in 2016. Before that, you had to have permission to use the song for commercial use (aka to make money). Now, it’s fair game for everyone. 

Trademarks, on the other hand, have to be renewed every 10 years. But, they can be renewed an unlimited amount of times as long as they meet certain requirements. Typically these requirements are that the mark is still being used and it hasn’t become a “generic” term. 

See, They Really Are Different

Knowing the differences between trademarks and copyrights is important for small business owners, musicians, social media influencers, and a variety of other entrepreneurs. 

If your business is in need of intellectual property help, call attorney Allison Higgins at Quest Business Law PLLC today. I serve trademark and copyright clients all over the country and business law clients all over Texas. I have been helping small businesses protect their brands since I was still in law school working at our school’s pro bono trademark clinic. Ready to get started? Call or text (210) 201-6145 today to schedule a free consultation. 

Quest Business Law specializes in trademark registration, copyright registration, IP law, business law and more. We serve business clients all over the state of Texas, and trademark clients all over the country.

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PO Box 967
Helotes, TX 78023


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