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Intellectual Property 101: Trademark & Copyright - ThinkstockPhotos-491490296-c.jpg

Intellectual Property 101: Trademark & Copyright

In my previous blog, I discussed how failing to identify your intangible assets can prevent you from being able to protect them from intellectual property (IP) theft. But identifying your intangible assets is only half the battle. Once you’ve done that, you have to protect them.

Depending on what sort of work it is, you have the option of protecting it with a trademark, copyright, patent, or trade secret. But what are some of the distinctions between those protections? Here’s a quick primer to help you identify your valuable assets that Rocket Lawyer can help you protect.


A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, or design that identifies your product and distinguishes it from your competitors. It’s what lets customers know that what they purchased is in fact your product. It allows customers to make decisions on what to buy based upon the reputation and equity of a brand.

If you want to build a reputation for quality, innovation, affordability, or any other attribute that can set you apart from your competitors, it’s important to have a strong trademark. Part of that distinctiveness also means making sure that your mark isn’t infringing upon anyone else’s. Just as you wouldn’t want anyone piggybacking off of your hard work to cash in on your brand, you don’t want to be sued for doing the same, even if it’s a crime of negligence rather than of malice.

One recent example of potential infringement involves Google’s recent unveiling of Alphabet, its new parent company. Business Insider reported that BMW was looking into possible infringement on the part of the tech giant, as the car manufacturer also has a subsidiary called Alphabet.

But as the article notes, in order to prove infringement, BMW must show that Google’s Alphabet creates a “likelihood of confusion” amongst consumers. Whereas BMW’s Alphabet provides cars and services to corporate customers in 18 countries, Google has indicated that their Alphabet will produce no goods or services.


A copyright is a protection for original works in a fixed, tangible medium. While the natural inclination may be to think of books or music albums or even films when talking about copyright, it also extends into the world of business. If you have website copy or advertising material associated with your company, those assets are eligible for copyright as well.

You’re not required to file with the U.S. Copyright Office in order for your work to fall under copyright protection; however, you do have to file with the copyright office if you wish to pursue an infringement suit in court.

Beyond stealing a few words from a book or website or a few bars from a song, technology has taken us into a brave new world of copyright infringement. VentureBeat reported that livestreaming app Periscope has received almost 1,400 takedown requests related to copyrighted material over its first year of existence, and Silicon Beat reported that the video app Vine has received more than 2,400.

And that doesn’t take into account the number of copyright violations that can be seen on platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. If you’re considering photos, video, or copy for your website or other marketing materials, be sure that you either own what you’re using or that you have the right to use it for that specific purpose.

Conversely, it’s important to be vigilant about your own works; take time to do an internet search periodically to make sure no one else is using your work without permission.

Use Traklight’s risk assessment as a guide to ensure you’re not missing any important early stage tasks! Traklight’s entire software platform is free for Rocket Lawyer visitors. Go here to get started.


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