The difference between copyright and trademark – what one should do to protect their ideas

By Lokesh Sharma|25th Jul 2016
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A friend once asked me, “I’ve been running back and forth since morning, going places and asking others for their expert advice. What should I actually do for my company; get myself a trademark or will it just be fine with a copyright?” The very first thing that came to my mind on hearing this was that people are so unaware about the concept of trademarks and copyrights. This is because of the lack of information they have about the concepts. This mistake made by my friend was nothing new to me; even law practitioners make this mistake. I asked her, “Do you have any idea what ‘copyright’ and ‘trademark’ actually mean?” She replied, “Yes, trademark and copyright are the ways through which you can protect the ideas of your company.” This was just one of the answers I expected from her.


Image: Shutterstock

We need to have a proper knowledge about what the best ways we can protect our ideas are. Knowing there are lots of possibilities of your ideas being stolen by others in the market when you have something new and fresh that can easily make your sales reach the top, a proper understanding of these terms seem essential. First the basic fact has to be clear in your mind that a copyright and a trademark protect are quite different. 

‘A trademark can be a single word, a short phrase, a design, a symbol or a combination of all of these which identifies or distinguishes the goods or services of a person, a company from those of its competitors’

‘A copyright can mean a law that gives you ownership over the things you have created, be it a painting, a photograph, a poem or a novel. The copyright law grants you ownership with several rights like:

  • The right to reproduce the work
  • The right to distribute copies
  • Right to display the work publically anywhere
  • And the right to prepare a derivative work

Many other differences that add to the list are

  1. A copyright is automatic whereas a trademark has to be registered in order to get real protection.
  2. A copyright holder can prevent or stop others from using his /her work while the trademark holder cannot or may not prevent others from using the mark publically.
  3. A trademark is protected by both federal and state laws but in case of a copyright, the laws are federal.
  4. Copyrights can protect your work for the duration of your life plus another 70 years. In case of trademark
  5. Online infringement of copyright can be quickly handled under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, but this is not the case with trademarks because it has a long judicial process, both federal and state.

There are similarities between the two that tend to confuse people.

  1. Both provide the owner the right to prevent others using their work.
  2. Both are protected with complex laws.
  3. They can exist simultaneously in some mark or design, even in shapes, colors or sizes.

The most important question is why one should know about the difference between the two? The answer is very simple-

One should know how he can protect his assets or respond to someone for claiming infringement. Another reason is that one who has the knowledge can easily take advantage of those who don’t. Using the difference can help one in taking good business decisions regarding product launches or for social media strategy.

Trademarks are a very essential tool for entrepreneurs. For instance, they could come up with the idea for a product which is very similar to what already exists in the market, which can cause a huge confusion among the consumers in the market.

People completely makes fool of themselves by mixing the two and may even end up losing the market they already have. Knowing these basic differences help you know what suits your business the best.


(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)


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