When you create intellectual property — whether said property is a logo, symbol, catch phrase, secret recipe or written work — you should take appropriate measures to protect your time and monetary investment. There are three main forms of protection, the two most common of which include copyright and trademark.
Before proceeding with protective measures, you will need to decide whether a trademark or copyright will best serve your purposes. To do this, you should understand the differences between the two. The United States Patent and Trademark Office explains when and why you might use each.
Trademark rights come from actual use and serve to protect words, symbols, phrases and/or designs that distinguish and identify the source of goods of one entity from those of another. These same rights also protect service marks, which include phrases, words, designs and symbols that distinguish and identify the source of the service rather than the goods themselves. Examples of service marks include slogans, logos and brand names. The term “trademark” encompasses both service marks and trademarks.
You do not have to register a trademark to protect a word, symbol, phrase or design from outside use. Rather, you just have to continually use the mark in commerce. In doing so, you can establish “common law” rights to the mark. If you do choose to register the mark with the USTPO, you can indicate its protective status with the “®” symbol. If you do not register it, you can use either the “TM” or “SM” symbol.
Trademarks, unlike copyrights, do not expire. The rights they provide come from actual use and can last forever.
Whereas trademarks protect symbols and designs, copyrights protect works of authorship. Examples of these works include novels, poetry, movies, computer software, songs and architecture. How long a copyright lasts depends on a few different factors. For instance, for works that an individual created, protection lasts the life of the author, plus an additional 70 years. For works that were created for hire, pseudonymously or anonymously, the protection lasts for 120 years from the date of creation or 95 years from the date of publication, whichever is shorter.