Learn how to trademark a logo and prevent others from using it illegally. Registering a trademark and copyright will protect your logo from infringement.
A unique, creative logo is an integral part of your brand image. It helps you attract new customers and makes you stand out from the competition.
Because your logo is so crucial to your brand’s identity, others might use it to tarnish your reputation. To ensure this doesn’t happen, you need to know how to trademark a logo.
This article explains why trademarks and copyrights matter, as well as how to easily apply for them.
Why Trademarks and Copyrights Matter
The Difference Between Trademarks and Copyrights
Why Should You Trademark Your Logo?
Why Might You Choose Not to Trademark Your Logo?
How to Copyright a Logo
How to Trademark a Logo
The Final Word
As you probably already know, copyrights and trademarks help protect your intellectual property against theft and illegal use. They apply to any tangible idea or creative work, as long as it’s original. And it’s not just artists that can benefit from them but businesses, too.
Think of it this way: you can’t register a business that doesn’t have a name. After hours upon hours of scratching your brain to come up with a unique name for your business, that name becomes your intellectual property. The last thing you’d want is for someone else to steal it and use it to try to push you out of the market.
When you copyright and/or trademark your intellectual property, no one else can use it for their own financial gain. Furthermore, they can’t use it to sell inferior products to the customer base you’ve worked so hard to build. And if they try, you’ll have the right to take them to court for it.
By protecting the rights of the creators of intellectual property, as well as their clients and customers, copyrights and trademarks also help protect the well-regulated free market that we’re used to.
Trademarks and copyrights serve a similar purpose, so it’s no wonder people often tend to confuse them. But there are some major differences between trademarks and copyrights.
Here we’ll take a look at the basic definitions of trademarks and copyrights, as well as their main differences. We’ll also explain why you may need both of them to fully protect your intellectual property – in this case, your logo.
A trademark is any name, symbol, word, sound, or design that distinguishes one brand or manufacturer from another brand or manufacturer working in the same field. Furthermore, it indicates the provider of specific products and services.
In simple terms, this means that you can trademark anything that sets your business apart from your competition. This can include company name, logo, and the symbols you use on your products, as well as any slogans and sounds you use in advertising. You can trademark pretty much anything except for your own name – unless it’s unique and refers to your brand.
A copyright protects the rights of creators of any original work that exists in a physical form. According to the United States Copyright Office (USCO), all original dramatic, literary, musical, and artistic works are subject to copyright. Logos and other designs fall in the “artistic work” category and are thus also subject to copyright.
Unlike trademarks, you don’t have to apply for copyright registration. That’s because the moment you create your logo, it’s already copyrighted on the principle that it’s an original creation.
But if someone else starts using your logo without authorization, the only way to sue them for it is to copyright your logo with the USCO. What’s more, if you haven’t officially copyrighted your logo, someone else may steal it and register it before you do. So the sooner you copyright your logo, the better.
Trademarks refer to products and their manufacturers, copyrights refer to original artistic works. And while trademarks offer a higher level of protection, copyrights are also very important for logos and other creative designs.
Here are the other key differences between trademarks and copyrights.
As explained above, trademarks are all words, symbols, and designs that differentiate your brand from your competition. They help customers identify who is standing behind the products, services, or advertising they interact with. Since your logo plays an important part in your brand’s identity, you can trademark it very easily.
But copyrighting your logo might prove much more difficult. After all, while trademarks have to do with how recognizable your logo is compared to your competition, copyrighting is mostly about their artistic value.
To copyright your logo, it has to feature a certain level of creativity that sets it apart from other logos. Having a logo that showcases your brand name using a commercially available typeface won’t cut it. To be eligible for a copyright, your logo needs to be more elaborate and artistic.
Copyrights protect your logo from any unauthorized copying. Even if you’re not actively using it, if it’s copyrighted, no one else can copy it or use it without your permission. At the same time, copyrights can’t protect your brand name as displayed in the logo – that’s what you need a trademark for.
Trademarks treat your logo as an element of your brand’s unique identity and protect it as such. This means that applying for a trademark on your logo won’t protect it from unauthorized duplication or copying. Trademarks can only ensure that no other company in your line of work can use your logo to deceive customers and create confusion in the marketplace.
It is also important to note that a trademark doesn’t protect various design elements of your logo. To protect the colors, the typeface, and other unique details of your design, you will need to copyright your logo.
After you’ve successfully trademarked your logo, the registered trademark will be valid for the next six years. As long as you continue to use your logo for commercial purposes, it will be trademarked. If you plan on using the same logo for more than six years, you can renew it before your initial trademark expires.
But once your copyright expires, you can’t renew it.
According to the Copyright Act of 1976, all works created from January 1, 1978 are subject to copyright for 70 years after the death of their last surviving creator. If your logo is a for-hire creative work, the copyright will be valid for 95 years since its original publication or 120 years since its creation – whichever of the two is shorter at the time of your copyright application.
There are three different symbols you can use next to your logo to indicate that it’s copyrighted and/or trademarked. There is the copyright symbol (©), the trademark symbol (™), and the registered trademark symbol (®). Including one of these symbols in your logo shows others that you are the owner of the logo and that they can’t use it without your permission.
Here is when you should use these symbols:
It is also important to note that you don’t have to apply for a copyright or register a trademark to use the copyright and trademark symbols next to your logo. But you must officially register your logo to use the registered trademark symbol. Using it without a proper registration is illegal.
You don’t have to use any of these symbols in your logo if you don’t want to. But if you’ve registered a trademark, it is best to use the corresponding symbol. Otherwise, if a competitor starts using your logo, they could argue in court that they didn’t know your logo was a registered trademark.
To type the copyright symbol:
To type the trademark symbol:
To type the registered trademark symbol:
Even though your logo is automatically copyrighted from the moment it’s created, applying for a formal copyright should be a top priority. Whether or not you’re using it publicly, this will prevent others from copying or stealing your design and using it themselves. It also gives you a legal advantage in case you decide to report a case of copyright infringement.
Registering for a trademark is also important for all the reasons we’ve highlighted above. It protects you from competitors who may try to steal your brand’s identity and protects your customers from being duped into buying inferior products.
Here are some other things you can only do if you have a registered trademark in the United States:
Despite all these benefits, you might choose not to trademark your logo.
This usually happens if:
To copyright your logo, you’ll have to register it with the United States Copyright Office.
Send Application by Mail
If you choose to submit your application in paper form, go to their website and download the forms for works in the “Visual Arts” category. After you fill out and submit the forms, it may take up to 13 months for them to process your request.
Submit Application Online
The procedure is much simpler if you opt to submit your forms via the form on their website. You will have to enter your personal information, attach a high-resolution version of your logo, and pay a one-off registration fee of $35. The standard waiting time for online copyright registration is usually not longer than eight months.
The easiest way to trademark a logo is to hire a professional who will sort out all the paperwork on your behalf. Lawyers usually charge hourly fees, so because this process can take several months to complete, you may have to pay a lot of money. You can avoid the extra cost by hiring an online legal service provider like LegalZoom.
LegalZoom has a special section on their website dedicated to trademark applications. You just follow the process step-by-step and enter your personal information as requested. LegalZoom’s trademark attorneys will do the rest and will only charge you a one-off fee for their services.
You can also trademark a logo yourself using the forms on the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) website. But before you do that, you should search their trademark database to make sure no one has already registered a similar trademark. Because you’re copyrighting a logo, you will need to use the design search codes assigned to all trademarks with visual elements.
Once you’ve checked everything, you can proceed to the Trademark Electronic Application System (TEAS) to fill out the forms. Here you can choose between three different forms:
If you opt for TEAS Reduced Fee or TEAS Plus applications, make sure to enter all the required information, as well as any disclaimers that could be relevant. If you fail to do so, you’ll need to pay an additional processing fee of $125.
After you complete the registration process, you’ll receive a confirmation email. It normally takes about three months for an attorney to review your application. You can check the status of your application by entering the reference number you’ve received in the email into the search form on the Trademark Status & Document Retrieval (TSDR) page.
As you can see, the only way to prevent any unauthorized use of your logo is to trademark and copyright it. This will also help you maintain the hard-earned reputation of your brand and protect your customers from fraud and scams others might try to set up using your name and logo.
You can trademark and copyright your logo very easily online, using the websites we’ve mentioned in this article. Just make sure you’ve entered all the relevant information before you submit the form, as you may otherwise incur additional processing fees or have your application denied.
If you need help registering a trademark, there’s no need to hire expensive lawyers who will charge you hourly fees. LegalZoom provides online services to small businesses and individuals for a low, one-off fee. You just provide the necessary personal information, and let them take care of everything else.