Copyright versus Trademarks: What Are the Key Differences?

Intellectual property is a thorny field even for legal experts – not to mention for the ‘layman’ who has created something and is simply seeking to protect their ownership rights over their own creation. When it comes to this field, one can speak of copyright and patents first and foremost, but then the debate can ramify into several branches, which include trademarks, trade secrets, trade practices, and so on. If you want to start making sense of this conundrum, which often leads to confusion, you can read on for a cursory outline of the key differences between copyright and trademark. Such issues are especially important for app and software devs, as, in the digital age, they will want to make sure they are receiving fair compensation for their work.

Copyright Versus Trademarks

In a nutshell, trademark protects the name of your product, be it a game, a program, or a smart phone application. Meanwhile, copyright protects the specific piece of intellectual property denoted by the above mentioned trademark. You cannot trademark content, just as well as you don’t hold copyright over a brand name – it is a mark. This mark includes all the specific identity elements that create the brand’s identity, from the name to its specific visual cues. But what else do copyright and trademarks do?

Copyright

copyright versus trademarks

In the United States copyright is currently regulated through the Copyright Act, which came into force in 1976. This law protects all ‘original’ forms of creation with known authors. The scope of copyright is all encompassing, and includes all forms of art (music, movies, books), as well as several other types of originally authored creation, including software, articles, and so on. A work doesn’t need to be public in order to be protected by copyright, as unpublished books can also be copyrighted. What copyright does is that it grants the rights to publishing, reproduction, copying, distribution, and display to a sole entity. Call it the label, the movie producer or studio – someone is solely authorized to grant others permission to engage in the above activities with a particular type of work.

Another important aspect to note is that copyright does not act upon inventions or discoveries – that’s where patents come in. Copyright is all about means of expression. In simpler terms, you can receive copyright over the description of a specific mechanism, but not over the mechanism itself. That form of ownership over intellectual property means no one can copy the description. The mechanism, however, can be copied, if not patented.

Trademark

Trademarks can either be words or visual symbols, used in various industries in order to signify a specific brand. That’s why they need to be unique – duplicate trademarks would create confusing situations, in which brands could easily be mistaken for one another. Service marks also exist and they are the trademarks of the service industry, though nowadays most companies simply employ the term ‘mark’ to refer to either or both. Brands looking to trademark their identity are strongly encouraged to read more on the topic, in order to understand what this process will do for them. A trademark will prevent other brands to ‘steal’ your identity. However, they bear no legal relevance over copying, usage, or distribution of a given product or service. It’s also interesting to note that trademarks are only assessed for uniqueness within specific industries. A trademark owner can come to realize, to their great surprise, that a similar mark exists in a different industry altogether.

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  1. Joe Hart

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