Ever had anybody try to use your brand, logo, design or content without permission? It happens, and it can get ugly. It’s safe to say that most people who are willing to steal someone else’s work are less willing to be civil about it when they’re caught. There are countless stories of hardworking business owners having their brand stolen, and being forced to decide between an expensive legal battle, (usually impossible for small businesses), and having to start their business from scratch.
Thankfully, with the the help of many other bloggers and the US Copyright Office, we can learn how to protect ourselves from these distracting experiences and continue to build our businesses with honor.
So, what’s the difference between a copyright and a patent? What’s a trademark?
Registering a copyright is not totally required, but is absolutely recommended. It is a form of intellectual property law that protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture; the list goes on.1 The copyright goes into effect immediately after the work is created. The tricky thing however, and what we are protecting with a copyright, is our ability to prove that the original work is ours.
Note: a copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed.
A patent is a limited duration property right relating to an invention, granted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office in exchange for public disclosure of the invention. Patentable materials include machines, manufactured articles, industrial processes, and chemical compositions. The duration of patent protection depends on the type of patent granted: 14 years for design patents and 20 years for utility and plant patents.2
A trademark protects words, phrases, symbols, or designs identifying the source of the goods or services of one party and distinguishing them from those of others.3
Without a registered copyright, or in other words a documented, dated, registered statement proclaiming ownership before anyone else, we enter into what could be called a paper trail competition, usually involving very expensive lawyers battling to prove who created what first. Sound like fun?
Not really. Let’s avoid that.
How do I register a copyright for my brand?
Search Google, search the trademark database and search social media sites to see if your brand name is in use by anyone else. Then, get ready to file. It should take about 90 minutes and can be done online here. Cost varies between $275 and $325, and will require information about your business. It’s good to avoid registering names with their domain extension, because another person can simply register the same name with a different extension. This article from Wall Street Journal has a few great tips for what to do and what not to do when registering.
For more detailed information on copyright, visit the U.S. Copyright Office website.