Trademark vs. copyright (Definitions and differences)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 13 July 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Copyright and trademarks are both forms of intellectual property. It's critical to safeguard a company's assets, and trademark and copyright laws remain essential for preserving the intellectual property a business produces. There are some key distinctions between the two, including what each protects and how they work. In this article, we define both copyright and trademarks, outline the primary distinctions between trademark and copyright and list the methods to acquire them.

Trademark vs. copyright definitions

Before reviewing the differences between a trademark vs. a copyright, it's helpful to review their definitions:

What is a trademark?

A trademark refers to a type of intellectual property, such as a phrase, word, device, symbol or design, that distinguishes a product or service as originating from a certain source. The purpose of a trademark helps differentiate one product from another. For instance, a lot of different businesses can sell fruit juice, but only one of them may use the name that they trademarked. The owner of the trademark has the legal right to control how people use the word or phrase within the context of that product line or service.

If one firm registers a trademark for a certain category of goods, other businesses are free to continue using the same name for a distinct category of goods so long as they don't confuse customers. For instance, if someone wanted to start a clothing company, they're able to incorporate the name of a well-known restaurant chain into the firm's name without worrying that customers might get the two businesses confused.

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What is copyright?

Copyright refers to a type of intellectual property protection that applies to original works. This type of protection is automatic copyright. Copyright protection extends to works of literature, theatre, music and the arts. This includes:

  • poetry

  • novels

  • art

  • research

  • movies

  • songs

  • software for computers

  • architecture

Works that copyright doesn't protect include:

  • ideas

  • discoveries

  • principles

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What are the key differences between a trademark and a copyright?

There are many elements to consider when comparing trademark vs. copyright. Intellectual property is a person's intangible assets, or more simply, creations of the mind. Examples of intellectual property include inventions, literary and artistic works, designs, symbols, names and images used in commercial settings. Trademarks and copyrights are both types of intellectual property. A business's intellectual property can refer to a wide variety of things, including all company concepts and any works or processes derived from such ideas. Key differences between trademark vs copyright include:

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Reproduction rights

The primary job of a trademark is to serve as an identifier. By doing so, it enables prospective consumers and any other parties who may have an interest in identifying a certain product quickly. In theory, there's nothing stopping someone from making an identical product and selling it under their own name as long as the original product isn't within some other intellectual property rights.

Copyright safeguards a particular piece of work against unauthorised reproduction. Copyright alone doesn't do much to distinguish one piece of work from any other piece of work, nor does it prevent another person from rephrasing any of the ideas in the work using their own words.

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Registration process

Here is how the registration process compares for these two types of protections:


The registration process is different when applying for a trademark and copyright. Once it's admitted into the register of trademarks, in order for a trademark to have any kind of legal status, the company needs to register it. While registering a trademark isn't a necessity, doing so is without a doubt one of the most effective methods to help protect the logo, brand name or slogan of the company. The Intellectual Property Office is the body responsible for registering trademarks in the United Kingdom.

You have the option of applying to register your trademark either online or by filling out paper forms. If you fill out the application and pay the cost at the same time as you file it, you could be eligible for a discount if you do it online. You can take the following steps to ensure the safety of a trademark:

  1. Give serious consideration to your selection of a mark and examine whether your brand meets the criteria for a trademark or not. After submitting your application, you won't be able to change the information, and they won't refund your payment.

  2. Search existing trademarks to see whether you can register and use your mark legally. If the mark you plan to use is already in use, conducting a clearance check helps you to avoid infringing on any prior rights.

  3. When submitting your application, you're required to state the trademark class or classes you want for your products or services to have their registration within. Since you can't add additional goods or services after this, make sure that you include all the ones that you want your trademark to cover.

  4. National registration only grants you protection rights within the country. If you want to sell your products elsewhere, consider registering a trademark in that country.

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Copyright automatically belongs to the owner of an original work, and there is no formal registration process. The invention requires some foundation in order for it to fall into copyright. This is primarily a question of judgement. As a general rule, this is a mix of quantity and quality, plus a certain originality.

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Renewing process

In theory, a company renews trademarks for an infinite amount of time so long as the mark is being put to good use and provided the trademark holder prevents their trademark from becoming a common term. However, copyright eventually expires after a set period of time. When it does, the work becomes open source. Ensure that any study on the legality of your copyright links to the appropriate original work.

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Each of these concepts has different benefits for companies and individuals. For a trademark, the brand logo and trading name remain central to the registration applications for most businesses. These are the words and pictures that are projected to the public to differentiate the goods and services and to build goodwill and brand recognition. By registering a company name or logo, the owner can inform third parties that they'll be the owner of a trademark.

Owners of a national trademark may sue third-party competitors that try to establish a nearly identical trademark or use a similar mark with their business. This safeguard reduces the chance of a third party harming the brand. When you register the copyrights, the process creates official information of ownership. This is critical because ownership is at the basis of many copyright disputes. Even if the infringer doesn't claim ownership of the work, the copyright owner demonstrates that they're the legal owners of the property to succeed in a copyright infringement case.

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One of the key distinctions between trademark and copyright is how extensively they grant protection to these forms of intellectual property. A trademark is more formal and has specific regulations regarding infringement. Informal copyright is established automatically when anyone creates an artistic work. Yet, there are many more formal precautions you can take to ensure that potential infringers of your copyright don't use your work without your permission. An example includes emailing work to yourself.

The practice of mailing your own work to yourself to demonstrate that you have been in physical possession of the material for a certain amount of time is an informal copyright. However, there's no provision for such protection under the legislation governing copyright, and informal copyright isn't a suitable replacement for registration.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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