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Trademark vs. Copyright vs. Patent | Protecting Your Small Business Name & Logo

Multiple times per week, clients ask me how to go about protecting their business names, company logos, and catchy slogans. They typically believe they need a copyright; however, more often than not, they actually need a trademark instead. In this post, I will demystify the confusion between trademarks, copyrights, and patents. I will also discuss how to register a trademark as well as available resources to help with the application process.

Trademark vs. Copyright vs. Patent Trademark– Trademarks protect words, names, phrases, and logos. These devices are used in trade to indicate the source of the product or service and to distinguish from competitors. Trademark registrations are filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Copyright– Copyrights protect original works of art and authorship, including photos, drawings, songs, music, books, plays, movies, and shows. Copyright registrations are filed with the United States Copyright Office. Patent– Patents grant property rights for actual inventions. They last 20 years, and during this time, the patented invention cannot be made or sold by anyone except the patent holder. Like trademarks, patent registrations are filed with the USPTO.

(NOTE: There are instances when it proves appropriate to use a mixture of trademarks, copyrights, and patents. For example, a business would want a patent for its new invention; a copyright for the text and graphics of the invention’s marketing campaign; and a trademark for the slogan associated with the invention.)

Registering  A Trademark 1.) Search existing trademarks. Use the USPTO’s Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS) to ensure your word, name, phrase, or logo is not already trademarked by someone else. You can search by word or by mark with this search engine. 2.) Submit your application. Prepare and submit your application through the Trademark Electronic Application System (TEAS). At this point, you are required pay an application fee of $325. This fee is non-refundable, so ensure all information is correct prior to submitting your application! 3.) Monitor your status. After submitting your application, you are assigned a serial number and your application is forwarded to an examining attorney for review. If your application is refused, you will be mailed an Office Action letter explaining the reasons for refusal. You have six months to correct your application. If your application is accepted, the USPTO will mail you a letter and publish your mark in its weekly publication, the “Official Gazette.” For 30 days after publication, your mark may be disputed by any party. You can monitor your application status through the Trademark Status and Document Retrieval (TSDR) system. Log in and check your status often so as not to miss any important notices or deadlines. 4.) Receive your registration. If your mark is not disputed by anyone within 30 days of publication, the USPTO will register the mark and send you a Certificate of Registration. The entire process typically takes around six to seven months to complete. 6.) Maintain your registration. After officially registering your mark, you must file specific maintenance documents to keep your registration active and in good standing. Failure to do so will result in expiration and/or cancellation of your registration. Keep your contact information up to date and continue monitoring your registration status through TSDR. This system will advise you of all required maintenance. You should check on your status annually, especially between the fifth and sixth year of registration and between the ninth and tenth year of registration, when important renewal documents are due.

Available Trademark Resources Trademark Assistance Center– The Trademark Assistance Center (TAC) provides information on trademark registration and answers questions regarding the application process. Telephone assistance is available Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. CT. Call (800) 786-9199 to speak with a TAC expert. Community Economic Development Clinic– The Community Economic Development (CED) Clinic is available through Creighton University School of Law and provides trademark, copyright, and other legal assistance to small businesses. To apply for assistance, call (402) 280-3068 or e-mail

Our SBDC office can also answer your trademark questions and assist you through the registration process. Call us at (712) 325-3376 or share your comments below!

The Iowa Western Small Business Development Center is a free resource for small businesses and start-ups in Southwest Iowa. We serve seven counties – including Cass, Fremont, Harrison, Mills, Page, Pottawattamie, and Shelby – and provide consulting services to help businesses start, grow, and prosper.

(Photo credit: BusinessSarah / Flickr)

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