Logo Design: Copyright v Trademark

As I’ve emphasized time and time again in multiple blogs, a logo is your brand’s face, its identity and personality. In a nutshell, it’s the most important factor that distinguishes your brand from competitors. However, creating a logo is not enough, you need to be certain that your logo is officially a national of the country and that there can be no identical twins roaming around. You have an identity but you need a card to prove that you are one of a kind and that this name and face belongs solely to you. Copyright and trademark play a similar part in protecting and proving the existence of your logo as an authentic, unique identity for your brand.

Importance of getting your logo copyrighted or trademarked

Before going into a comparison of copyright and trademark and telling you which one is necessary for your logo, let me fill you in on why exactly is it so important to get your logo registered in the first place.

The primary reason for getting your logo copyrighted or trademarked is security. Yes people, believe it or not even your logo needs the law for safety. This is an essential step to keep your logo safe from infringement and duplication. Registering your logo under these laws gives you the surety that your logo design/idea cannot be stolen, used or copied by another organization.

What is copyright?

Trademark vs Copyright

You might have heard of copyrighted content especially when you’re browsing for music to add to an animation or for your next big project. Content which becomes popular and represents a distinct idea is mostly copyrighted and you’ll need to spend some cash along with seeking the creator’s permission of course to use it.

Creative content such as music, literature, software or any other similar work is usually protected from being misused or copied through the Copyright protection clause in the constitution of USA.

Article 1 section 8 of the U.S constitution, known as the “copyright clause” was founded by a group of people who discovered a law which could protect the rights of artists and creators, preventing their original content from being copied.

From a multinational to a freelance logo designer, anyone can get their original creation copyrighted to prevent it from being used under someone else’s name or banner or from similar content emerging in the same industry. Even though anything which is “first hand” or originally made is copyrighted as soon as it is created (in the United States), nevertheless in order to actually sue someone for copying your content, you need to get your logo registered. Only when you get your logo copyrighted can you claim your rights to prevent anyone from using, distributing or copying your logo. Copyrighted works can be used solely by the creator who reserves the right to publish or distribute his/her own content. However simply copyrighting your logo does not protect it from infringement entirely since you can only claim the originality not the usage. Anyone who wants to use your copyrighted content may do so if he/she buys the rights to use it.

Now for a logo to be eligible enough to get copyrighted it needs to be original and must pass the test of creativity! Now who’ll be the judge of that?! So perhaps Nike wouldn’t have been copyrighted had it not been the first of its kind or had the brand itself perhaps not made such a significant impact and brilliant tagline to support it because back then it might have simply been a tick. We can only assume.

What is a trademark?

Trademark vs Copyright

A trademarked work is that which cannot be used by anyone else other than the creator or owner. To make it simpler: it is proof that you did it first! A trademark itself is either a sentence/phrase, a logo design or an emblem or it could be all of these things combined and is used to eliminate any confusion about a particular brand’s identity with a similar one in the market. It is possible to register a trademark for anything that belongs to your brand, from your logo design to your brand’s packaging, website design, name of your company etc.

As soon as your logo or anything related to your brand is trademarked you reserve the rights to use that particular trademarked design where and how you deem fit. Nevertheless a trademark, unlike copyrighted logos does not prevent anyone from creating a similar design or using the same colors. I guess either Cadbury doesn’t really care about twinning with the chocolate Novella which has almost the exact

same colors as its “inspiration” or it didn’t get the logo or packaging design copyrighted.

A trademark thus cannot be used to protect infringement of color, similar logo design or similar packaging etc. In light of the example given above, if Cadbury’s packaging has been copied (which is evident), the company may not be able to claim its design if it is merely trademarked and not copyrighted.

Copyright v Trademark: a summary

Copyright Trademark
Mostly used for music, artistic content, literature and other intellectual works Used mostly for phrases, logos, symbols or any other work related to the brand
Protects your claim to the work so that no one else can exhibit it as their own but cannot completely prevent infringement Protects the work from infringement such as being used for personal gains
Prevents anyone from designing a similar logo or creating similar content Does not prevent the creation of similar works or designs but rather proves whom the original idea or work belongs to in order to prevent confusion in the market
You can control how your copyrighted content is distributed or exhibited Does not refer to the usage of the logo’s colors or design so if anyone uses a similar logo, the company must refer to copyright infringement instead of trademark infringement
Without copyrighting your logo design, anyone is allowed to copy the colors or design with minor alterations or editing. You may not be able to sue the person with a trademark since he/she has simply taken “inspiration” and you cannot claim your copyrights. Without registering your logo design you cannot win a law suit where someone has been using your logo. Once your logo is registered, someone else trying to get a similar logo trademarked will be guilty of trademark infringement

Which one is more suitable for a logo?

Truth be told, there’s no one route which you could opt for: you need both to completely secure your logo design. This is because both can have security locks on your logo which are necessary to protect it from getting copied or misused.

As mentioned above, copyrighting your work of art means that you are the sole owner and can claim rights to it in case someone uses your idea or design claiming it as their own. On the other hand it is far more important to get your logo trademarked first in order to secure the fact that the logo was your original design and hence any similar works are merely inspired or copied. This prevents any confusion regarding your brand identity.

To clarify it in a nutshell, you need to get your logo copyrighted to prevent copying without buying the rights or seeking lawful permission but simultaneously you need to get your logo trademarked in order to prevent multiple people or organizations from using your logo for their own purposes and to ensure that people know “you were there first”.

For freelancers it is better to get their logo copyrighted but for bigger fish in the sea or large organizations, it is highly recommended to opt for both registrations so that there is no loophole when they sue a competitor for copying or using their logo.

How to get your logo copyrighted?

Trademark vs Copyright

Follow the guide and your logo will be registered in no time:

  1. The best part about the digital world? You don’t have to wait in cues anymore. Simply visit the online registration website where you can fill out the copyright form. For U.S based businesses visit the official website: https://copyright.gov/

Even though the conventional way of visiting the office itself still exists, do you really want to leave your home with your busy schedule? Additionally, it takes up to 8 months for your form to be processed online as opposed to 13 months for it to be registered with a paper form. I know what I’d want to do.

  1. Once you land on the United States Copyright Office website, you’ll find a button which says eCO online registration. Hit the button (click I mean) and it’ll take you to the CO form which you’re required to fill out. The form will ask for your personal details, name of the creator as well as a graphic image of the logo you are registering.
  2. You’ve got to pay for protection of your rights of course so here’s the part where you need $35 in your account to finally get the process working. After uploading your logo’s working file you can pay the registration fee either through a credit or debit card, with an e-check or your deposit account with the Copyright Office. Next up, you’ll get a confirmation that your registration has been processed and your approval is pending. Following your registration your copyright will be in effect on the date of submission of your application so you can start using your logo as soon as your receive the confirmation message.

You may find it helpful: Everything You Need To Know About Logo Design Copyright Laws

How to get your logo trademarked?

Registering your logo as a trademark is the easy part, the difficult part is passing through the test of whether or not “you were there first”. It is necessary to conduct a research in order to see if similar logos haven’t already been trademarked. This can be done through the Trademark Electronic Search System or TESS which can easily be accessed on the official website of the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

One may ask, “why don’t I apply and let the US Patent and Trademark Office conduct the research for me? Well, do you want to lose the application money and not get any benefit because your logo might resemble some other trademarked design? The Trademark Office does not conduct a research unless you pay the application fee and that’s the primary reason why it is far feasible for you to conduct the research yourself before applying for a trademark.

Following are the steps you need to thus follow:

  1. Conduct a thorough research via the TESS to ensure your idea is the first of its kind and a similar logo hasn’t already entered the market.
  2. File an application through the Trademark Electronic Application System. Fill out the form once you have reached a conclusion as to which application fulfills your purpose. There are 3 to choose from: TEAS plus, TEAS reduced and TEAS regular.
  3. Then there’s the ITU or “intent-to-use basis” section for which an additional fee of $50 has to be paid.
  4. Following submission you will receive a confirmation via email and your waiting period begins. Your application will be review by an attorney within a period of 3 months to verify whether or not your application is in line with all legal requirements. After doing the needful the attorney will give his/her approval and Voila! Your logo has been trademarked.
  • A Picture of Waqas D.

    Waqas D.

Waqas D. is the co-founder of the branding and website agency, FullStop™. He supercharges brands by crafting memorable logos, brand identities and engaging websites. Besides thousands of startups and medium-size businesses, FullStop has worked with likes of Microsoft & L’Oréal. View our portfolio or get in touch.

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