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What Are Trademarks?

Trademarks, registered or not, are phrases, symbols, or designs that are used to represent certain goods or services and distinguish them on the market. This broad definition means there are plenty of options for a trademark—companies have trademarked particular colors, smells, even the shape of a bottle (Coca-Cola). Since a trademark is dependent on context, elements that would normally be ineligible for copyrighting can be trademarked. The Apple trademark is a good example: While an apple cannot be copyrighted, its artistic representation can be—its use as a symbol for an electronics and software company is protected as a trademark. Trademarks may be registered with the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), and doing so may lend additional weight to a legal claim, but a trademark may be protected even if it is not registered.

What Is Copyright?

While copyright is in some ways similar to trademark, its intended use is quite different. Copyright applies to original works of creativity; it protects the rights of the author or current owner of the work. Whoever holds copyright has the exclusive right to reproduce the work, make derivative works, distribute it, or perform it publicly. Like trademarks, copyrights may be registered—in this case, with the US Copyright Office—but works are protected by copyright even if they are not registered.

Trademark vs. Copyright: Which One to Choose?

Both trademark and copyright can be used to protect a business’s intellectual property, and they may overlap. For example, a unique logo commissioned from a graphic artist qualifies for both copyright and trademark protection. These two sets of laws are distinct from each other and confer different benefits, but they are not mutually exclusive.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.


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