Difference Between Trademarks and Copyrights

Difference Between Trademarks and Copyrights

Understanding the difference between trademarks and copyrights is crucial for anyone involved in creative work or business. Both are forms of intellectual property protection, but they serve different purposes and cover different types of work. This article will explain the key distinctions between trademarks and copyrights, how they are obtained, their duration, and their importance in protecting intellectual property.

What is a Trademark?

A trademark is a symbol, word, phrase, or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of goods or services of one party from those of others. Trademarks are vital for businesses to protect their brand identity and prevent others from using similar marks that could confuse consumers.

Types of Trademarks

  1. Word Marks: These include company names, product names, or slogans.
  2. Design Marks: These include logos, symbols, or any graphical design.
  3. Combination Marks: These include a combination of words and designs.
  4. Sound Marks: These include specific sounds used to identify a brand, like the NBC chimes.
  5. Colour Marks: These include specific colours associated with a brand, like Tiffany & Co.’s blue.

Importance of Trademarks

Trademarks help consumers identify the origin of goods or services, ensuring that they are purchasing from a trusted source. They also protect the brand’s reputation and prevent competitors from copying or imitating the brand.

Examples of Famous Trademarks

  • Coca-Cola: The distinctive script and the shape of the bottle.
  • Nike: The swoosh symbol.
  • Apple: The apple with a bite taken out of it.

Recent Developments in Trademark Law

In recent years, there have been significant developments in trademark law. For example, in the U.S., the Supreme Court case of Booking.com B.V. v. United States Patent and Trademark Office (2020) ruled that a generic term combined with a top-level domain (like “.com”) can be eligible for trademark protection if it has acquired distinctiveness. This decision has significant implications for online businesses seeking to protect their brand names.

What is Copyright?

Copyright is a form of protection granted to the creators of original works of authorship, such as literary, musical, and artistic works. It gives the creator exclusive rights to use, distribute, and modify their work.

Types of Works Protected by Copyright

  1. Literary Works: Books, articles, poems.
  2. Musical Works: Songs, compositions.
  3. Artistic Works: Paintings, sculptures, photographs.
  4. Audiovisual Works: Movies, television shows.
  5. Software: Computer programs and applications.
  6. Architectural Works: Designs and plans for buildings.

Importance of Copyright

Copyright protects the creator’s work from being copied or used without permission. It ensures that creators receive recognition and financial benefits from their work.

Recent Developments in Copyright Law

The rise of digital technology has led to significant changes in copyright law. One notable case is Google LLC v. Oracle America, Inc. (2021), where the Supreme Court ruled that Google’s use of Java APIs in its Android operating system constituted fair use. This decision has major implications for software developers and the tech industry.

Key Differences Between Trademarks and CopyrightsDifference Between Trademarks and Copyrights

Nature of Protection

  • Trademarks: Protect brand names, logos, and other identifiers of commercial goods and services.
  • Copyrights: Protect original works of authorship, such as books, music, and art.

Duration of Protection

  • Trademarks: These can last indefinitely as long as they are used in commerce and renewed periodically.
  • Copyrights: Generally last for the lifetime of the creator plus 70 years. For works made for hire, the duration is 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation, whichever is shorter.

Registration Process

  • Trademarks: Require registration with a trademark office to gain protection. This process involves applying, an examination of the application, publication for opposition, and ultimately registration.
  • Copyrights: Protection is automatic upon creation of the work, but registration with a copyright office provides additional legal benefits, including the ability to sue for statutory damages and attorney’s fees.

Legal Framework

  • Trademarks: Governed by the Lanham Act in the United States and various international treaties.
  • Copyrights: Governed by the Copyright Act of 1976 in the United States and various international treaties, such as the Berne Convention.

Scope of Protection

  • Trademarks: Protects against the use of similar marks that may confuse.
  • Copyrights: Protects against copying, distributing, and creating derivative works.


  • Trademarks: Enforcement requires showing that the infringing mark is likely to confuse consumers. Legal action can result in injunctions, damages, and the destruction of infringing goods.
  • Copyrights: Enforcement requires showing that the work has been copied without permission. Remedies include injunctions, damages, and, in some cases, statutory damages and attorney’s fees.

How to Register a Trademark

Conduct a Trademark Search

Ensure that the mark is not already in use. This step helps avoid potential conflicts and legal issues.

File an Application

Apply to the trademark office, which includes details about the mark and the goods/services it will be used for.


The application is examined for compliance with trademark laws. The examiner will review it for conflicts with existing trademarks and other issues.


The mark is published for opposition. This allows third parties to oppose the registration if they believe it will harm their existing trademarks.


If no oppositions are filed, the mark is registered. The owner receives a certificate of registration, providing legal protection.

Trademark Registration in Different Jurisdictions

  • United States: Managed by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
  • European Union: Managed by the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO).
  • International: The Madrid Protocol allows for the registration of trademarks in multiple countries through a single application.

How to Register a Copyright

Prepare Your Work

Ensure that the work is in a tangible form. This could be a manuscript, a recording, a photograph, etc.

Complete an Application

Apply to the copyright office, which includes information about the work and the creator.

Submit a Copy of the Work

Provide a copy of the work to the copyright office. This is known as a deposit copy.

Pay the Fee

Pay the required registration fee, which varies depending on the type of work and the registration method.

Receive a Certificate

Upon approval, receive a certificate of registration. This certificate provides proof of copyright and offers additional legal benefits.

Benefits of Registering Trademarks and Copyrights

For Trademarks

  • Exclusive Rights: Exclusive right to use the mark in commerce.
  • Legal Protection: Legal protection against infringement.
  • Brand Recognition: Enhances brand recognition and reputation.
  • Monetary Value: Trademarks can be licensed or sold, providing financial benefits.

For Copyrights

  • Exclusive Rights: Exclusive rights to reproduce, distribute, and modify the work.
  • Legal Protection: Legal protection against unauthorized use.
  • Monetary Benefits: Ability to license or sell the work.
  • Moral Rights: Some jurisdictions recognize moral rights, which protect the personal and reputational value of the work.

Historical Background

History of Trademarks

The concept of trademarks dates back to ancient civilizations. In ancient Egypt, potters marked their products to identify their work. The use of trademarks became more formalized during the medieval period when guilds in Europe required craftsmen to mark their goods to ensure quality and authenticity. Modern trademark law began to take shape in the 19th century, with the first comprehensive trademark legislation being enacted in the United Kingdom in 1875. The United States followed with the Trademark Act of 1881, which laid the foundation for current U.S. trademark law.

History of Copyright

The origins of copyright can be traced back to the invention of the printing press in the 15th century, which made it easier to reproduce written works. In 1710, the Statute of Anne was enacted in the United Kingdom, providing the first formal copyright law and granting authors exclusive rights to their works for a limited time. The concept of copyright spread to other countries and international agreements like the Berne Convention of 1886 established a framework for global copyright protection.

International Perspectives

Trademark Laws Around the World

Trademark laws vary by country, but most follow similar principles established by international agreements. The Madrid Protocol, administered by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), allows for international registration of trademarks. This system enables businesses to protect their trademarks in multiple countries through a single application.

  • United States: The Lanham Act governs trademark law, protecting registered and unregistered trademarks.
  • European Union: The EUIPO administers trademark registration for the entire EU, offering a unified system for trademark protection.
  • China: Trademark law in China has evolved rapidly, with the China National Intellectual Property Administration (CNIPA) overseeing registrations. China is known for its “first-to-file” system, emphasizing the importance of early registration.

Copyright Laws Around the World

Copyright laws are also influenced by international treaties, ensuring protection across borders. The Berne Convention and the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) are key agreements that set minimum standards for copyright protection globally.

  • United States: The Copyright Act of 1976 provides the framework for copyright protection, with automatic protection upon creation.
  • European Union: The EU Copyright Directive harmonizes copyright laws across member states, ensuring consistent protection.
  • India: The Indian Copyright Act of 1957 governs copyright protection, with recent amendments to address digital piracy and extend the duration of protection.

Real-World Examples

Trademark Cases

  • Apple Inc. v. Samsung Electronics Co.: This high-profile case involved design patents and trademarks, with Apple accusing Samsung of copying the design and user interface of its iPhones. The case highlighted the importance of protecting both functional and aesthetic aspects of products.
  • Victoria’s Secret v. Victor’s Little Secret: This case dealt with trademark dilution, where Victoria’s Secret claimed that Victor’s Little Secret, a small lingerie shop, was harming its brand. The Supreme Court ruled in favour of Victoria’s Secret, emphasizing the importance of maintaining brand integrity.

Copyright Cases

  • Napster Case: One of the most famous copyright cases involving digital music piracy. Record labels sued Napster, a peer-to-peer file-sharing service, for enabling users to share copyrighted music without authorization. The court ruled against Napster, leading to its shutdown and highlighting the challenges of protecting copyrights in the digital age.
  • Blizzard Entertainment v. Bossland: Blizzard sued Bossland, a company that created cheating software for Blizzard’s games. The court ruled in favour of Blizzard, awarding significant damages and reinforcing the protection of software copyrights.

Common MisconceptionsDifference Between Trademarks and Copyrights

Trademarks and Copyrights are the Same

One common misconception is that trademarks and copyrights serve the same purpose. In reality, they protect different types of intellectual property. Trademarks protect brand identifiers, while copyrights protect creative works.

Registration is Not Necessary

Some believe that registration is unnecessary because protection is automatic. While copyrights are automatically protected upon creation, registration provides additional legal benefits. Trademarks require registration to gain full legal protection.

Fair Use Allows Unlimited Use

Fair use is a defence in copyright law that permits limited use of copyrighted works without permission. However, it is not a blanket exemption and is subject to specific conditions. Misusing fair use can lead to legal issues.

Trademark Protection is Limited to Logos

Trademarks encompass more than just logos. They include words, phrases, sounds, and even colours associated with a brand. Understanding the full scope of trademark protection is essential for effective brand management.

Practical Tips for Protection

For Trademarks

  1. Conduct Thorough Searches: Before adopting a trademark, conduct thorough searches to ensure it is not already in use. This can prevent legal conflicts and rebranding costs.
  2. Register Promptly: Register your trademark as soon as possible to secure legal protection and prevent others from using similar marks.
  3. Maintain Usage: Regularly use your trademark in commerce to maintain its protection. Non-use can lead to abandonment of the trademark.
  4. Monitor and Enforce: Monitor the market for potential infringements and take prompt action to enforce your trademark rights. This can involve sending cease-and-desist letters or pursuing legal action.

For Copyrights

  1. Register Your Works: While registration is not mandatory, it provides significant legal benefits. Register your works with the copyright office to enhance protection.
  2. Use Copyright Notices: Include copyright notices on your works to inform others of your ownership and deter unauthorized use.
  3. Monitor for Infringements: Regularly monitor for unauthorized use of your works, especially online. Digital tools can help track and identify potential infringements.
  4. Understand Fair Use: Familiarize yourself with the fair use doctrine to understand when and how others can use your copyrighted works legally.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the main difference between trademarks and copyrights?

The main difference between trademarks and copyrights lies in what they protect. Trademarks protect brand identifiers such as names, logos, and slogans used in commerce, while copyrights protect original works of authorship, such as books, music, and art.

Can I trademark a book title?

Generally, book titles are not eligible for trademark protection unless they are part of a series. However, a series title can be trademarked as it identifies the source of a series of books.

How long does it take to register a trademark?

The process of registering a trademark can take several months to over a year, depending on various factors such as the jurisdiction, the completeness of the application, and whether there are any oppositions or disputes.

Do I need to register my copyright to get protection?

No, copyright protection is automatic upon creation of the work. However, registering your copyright provides additional legal benefits, including the ability to sue for statutory damages and attorney’s fees.


Understanding the difference between trademarks and copyrights is essential for protecting intellectual property. While trademarks protect brand identity and consumer trust, copyrights protect the creator’s original works. Both forms of protection are crucial in ensuring that intellectual property rights are respected and upheld.

By registering trademarks and copyrights, individuals and businesses can secure their creative and commercial interests, preventing unauthorized use and benefiting from their intellectual property. As the legal landscape evolves, staying informed about recent developments and case laws is vital for effective intellectual property management.

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