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Trademarks and Copyrights: What’s the Difference?

Trademarks and Copyrights: What’s the Difference?

Intellectual property is an area of law that protects the ideas, works, and creations of people and companies. Two of the main areas of intellectual property are trademarks and copyrights. However, many people do not know the difference between these two divergent subject matters.

A trademark is a recognizable sign, phrase, or symbol that denotes a product or service and legally differentiates it from all others of its kind. Trademarks typically apply to marks used by businesses such as logos, phrases, and names.

A copyright, on the other hand, is an exclusive legal right, given to an owner of certain intellectual property to print, publish, perform, film, or record literary, artistic, or musical material, and to authorize others to do the same. To that end, copyrights can refer to creative works such as a story plot, an invention prototype, or the lyrics and musical notes to a song. Copyrights can also apply to more technical creations such as software, testing, and chemicals.

Trademarks and copyrights can also provide different protections to its holders. In order to possess a trademark in the United States of America, a person must apply for one through the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (“USPTO”). As part of the examination process, the USPTO will review a person’s trademark application to determine if any conflicts exist with other trademarks, and ensure that the application meets all of the technical requirements set forth by the USPTO.

Copyrights, on the other hand, do not necessarily require an application through the federal government, although a person does need to register their copyright if they wish to bring a copyright infringement lawsuit in a U.S. court. Anyone who creates an original work or expression in a fixed medium has a copyright for that work or expression. A work, product, or expression is fixed when it is portrayed in a tangible medium such as a photograph, canvas, writing, or recording. Copyrights provide protection against other persons producing your work or a product which is substantially similar.

In contrast to trademarks, which must be renewed every ten years, copyrights typically last for the lifetime of the creator plus an additional 70 years. This does not mean that only the creator can use the work, but that everyone else must give credit to the creator even after his or her lifetime. Credit may be in the form of citations and references or monetary compensation such as royalties.

If you have any questions or would like to know more about trademarks, copyrights, or intellectual property law, please contact one of our experienced attorneys at McNeelyLaw LLP by calling (317) 825-5110.

This McNeelyLaw LLP publication should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinion of any specific facts or circumstances. The contents are intended for general informational purposes only, and you are urged to consult your own lawyer on any specific legal questions you may have concerning your situation.

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