Your business has just created the most amazing logo of all time. The design is original and professional looking, it fits nicely with your social media platforms, and it tells your brand’s story in a unique, but timeless way. Now you juåst need to figure out a way to protect it, because you know anyone who sees it is going to be tempted to steal it in a heartbeat.
We all know that starting and running a business comes with a lot of challenges. Many of those challenges will never even cross your mind until they’re right in front of you. This could be deciding which business entity to use, which state to incorporate in, or filing a trademark. These sort of decisions, while they may be considered boring, are necessary to protect the business you are building.
In general, you should always seek legal council for handling these matters. You’ll minimize the risk of making a mistake and free your time to handle the aspects of your business that you are best at. But this article should answer some basic questions and get you headed in the right direction.
Copyright vs Trademark for Logos
When it comes to protecting your intellectual property, the two options you will likely consider are copyright and trademark protection. In some cases you may be able to use both for the same intellectual property, but usually you won’t have that option because there are particular guidelines for each.
A copyright protects authors of “original works of authorship,” including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and other specific creative works. However, a copyright does not cover intellectual property such as titles, names, short phrases, familiar symbols and designs, or color schemes. Most logos and slogans do not qualify for copyright protection.
On the other hand, a trademark protects a word, phrase, symbol or design that “identifies and distinguishes the goods or services of one person or company from those of others.” Your logo, tag-line, or any other similar branding elements are protected.
What about the case of a logo being protected by copyright? There are instances where your logo may be eligible for copyright protection, if your logo is more complex and original. Simple logos, such as the “swoosh” for Nike resemble common symbols and cannot be trademarked. However, if your logo is completely original, artistic, and complex it may qualify for copyright and trademark protection.
Protecting Your Logo With a Trademark
The purpose of a trademark is to protect the things that set your business apart from others. Trademarks protect a more broad range of items than copyright, but the actual protection itself is more limited than copyright. A copyright is designed to protect against virtually all unlicensed copying that is outside of fair use, while a trademark only deals with use of the “mark” that causes confusion in that company’s marketplace.
For example, let’s say your business is a bakery that’s known for delicious apple pies and the name is Apple Bakery. Well, Apple Inc. (the company responsible for the device you are quite possibly reading this on) couldn’t sue you because no one would mistake a bakery for a company that sells computers.
A trademark prevents other businesses in your industry from trying to use elements of your branding to confuse unsuspecting consumers into thinking that both companies are affiliated or are the same company. We see this all the time with knock-off products from China that look close to the original product, but aren’t quite the same.
How to Trademark a Logo
While you can certainly do this yourself, I would recommend at least speaking with a trademark attorney first. Not only will they be able to answer specific questions about your unique logo, but they can get the trademark filed quickly. Finding an attorney who specializes in intellectual property protection isn’t difficult and can be done with a quick Google search. Simply do a search for trademark attorneys in your area.
If you’d like to go ahead and do it yourself, that’s fine and the process isn’t too complicated. First you want to go to the United States Patent and Trademark Office website and use the Trademark Electronic Application System (TEAS) for filing online. The system is user-friendly and will guide you through the necessary steps. The cost of filing online is $325 and you can look through the fee schedule to see the costs for any other filings you might need to do with the USPTO.
You will be asked to provide the following information:
Name of the applicant filing the application or name of the owner of the mark
A name and address for a person to contact
A clear drawing of the mark
Listing of the goods or services
Filing fee for at least one class of goods or services
You want to make sure you get everything correct because the USPTO does not refund application fees for rejected marks. If you have any questions they have phone support 24 hours a day to help guide you through the process.
Kyle Stout is a freelance writer based out of Houston, TX. This article was prepared on behalf of Vethan Law Firm, P.C.