I talk about intellectual property (trademarks, copyrights, patents and a few other things) a lot. But, I don’t think I have ever explained the small differences between each, and the main points between registration vs non-registration of each. This is going to be a brief overview of that, and hopefully, by the end of this, you will have a better understanding of what is what, and how it applies to you and your business.
We will start here because as a content creator or fitness entrepreneur this is likely what you will have the most of in your business. If you want a great background on copyrights you can read this article I wrote that goes into a little bit of detail on the subject.
Basically, a copyright can be anything that has a degree of creativity and is fixed in a tangible medium ie an idea you have for something awesome and you put it down on paper, or canvas, or wood or whatever medium you decide.
Once your work is fixed in this tangible medium it gains common law rights and protection through the US copyright laws. So you don’t have to take any action and you have certain rights to protect your work. These rights include the right to make derivative works, to stop people from copying your work or passing it off as theirs, and quite a bit more.
There is the presumption that this creation is yours, and using the © helps put the rest of the world on notice that you are in fact claiming this item as yours, and everyone else needs to back off.
The current Copyright Act protects your work for your lifetime plus 70 years. After that, it falls into the public domain and anyone can use the work.
So what is the big deal about having a “registered” copyright if you are automatically covered by common law when you create the thing you want to protect?
Well, through registering your copyright with the US Government you get what we call a bundle of rights, a bundle that you are going to want. The trick is that if someone infringes on your copyright (uses it without your permission) then you can’t actually sue them without first having the registration.
Other great advantages to having a registered copyright include establishing a public record of your copyright, the presumption that you own the copyrighted work, and with a timely registration you are able to seek a substantial amount of damages including attorney’s fees.
Registration is pretty cheap (usually around $35) and totally worth it.
So whats with a Trademark?
Trademarks are a form of intellectual property, and they do have a creative element to them. However, they are not as abundant in most businesses and definitely not for creative entrepreneurs.
Trademarks are going to cover things like brand name, logos, slogans, things that when seen or heard cause the public to think about a certain company or product. This can be a single word, a phrase, a symbol, even a combination of sound and design can qualify as a trademark if it designates a company or a particular good or service think trademark.
If someone else tries to use your logo or your brand name without you licensing out the name, or otherwise granting permission for them to do this, they have infringed on your mark and you get to force them to stop. Actually, you have to force them to stop per trademark law (you have a duty to police your mark-questions on that email me).
Trademarks are similar to copyrights in that you are protected via common law as soon as you begin to use the mark in commerce. But, you don’t necessarily have to get the mark registered with the USPTO if you want to sue for infringement.
But registration of a TM is great because…
There are many clear advantages to having a registered trademark. If your mark is registered you’re able to use the ® and put others on notice that you have taken the steps to protect your mark to the maximum. If you don’t register you must use the ™ instead. Also, registration allows you to sue in Federal Court and therefore you are open to the possibility of obtaining a lot more money if you win the case. You will also increase your brand value if your marks are actually registered. No one wants to license your coaching program from you if the mark is fully protected. Registration for trademarks is not quite as cheap as copyrights, but it is arguably more valuable for the typical business owner.
There are a multitude of reasons why registration is important these are just a few.
Why It Matters
As a business owner, a lot of your company’s value is in the intellectual property you own. It is important to understand what intellectual property is, and what you need to be doing in order to protect it. I hope this little overview helps you organize your thoughts on the subject and gets you thinking about what within your brand is a trademark or a copyright and what steps you need to take to protect it. Email me at Shannon@montgomerypllc.com if you’re ready to take those steps!
Please note that this is not meant to be legal advice for you or your situation, this is merely some legal research and knowledge on the given topic.