The Rules of Trademarks and Copyrights

Have you ever seen those little ™ and © signs and wondered what they mean—and more important, if you actually need one?

The answer, as in most cases, depends. Both provide protections to your intellectual property—but they are different enough that they are managed by two different government agencies.

Keep reading to find out if and when you should apply for either and how to go about doing so.


Trademarks, represented by the ™ symbol, are designed to protect something you created, specifically your logo, commercial name, or slogan that is unique to your business. The trademark ensures no one else can use those items for their own business or reproduce them for profit. It also prevents people from creating branding and symbols closely resembling an established brand.

The idea behind a trademark is to protect your commercial intellectual property, but also to prevent dishonest companies from fooling consumers with look-alike branding.

You can register a trademark online with the U.S. Patent and Trademark office through the Trademark Electronic Application System (TEAS). The application is detailed, so you will want to gather some materials ahead of time.

Legal Zoom provides a great breakdown here, but the application also provides some guidance.


Copyrights, represented by the © symbol, for the most part protect your original creative or intellectual works, such as art or music you produce, content you write, and software code you develop. If you obtain a copyright, it means that you hold exclusive rights to print, publish, share on the Internet, distribute, display and perform the work.

In order to copyright a work, it must be “fixed in a tangible medium of expression,” meaning that it must be in some tangible, fixed form (e.g., a book, sculpture/painting, file, sound recording or computer program). The copyright will last as long as the creator is alive, plus an additional 70 years.

While copyrights aren’t required, they help to protect your intellectual property. Without one, you won’t be able to sue for copyright infringement, in the event someone reproduces your work and distributes it as his or her own.

You can file for a copyright through the U.S. Copyright Office by completing the necessary online forms. Legal Zoom, again provides a detailed breakdown here, and the website provides plenty of information.

So, should you apply for one or both? As a business, you will likely want to trademark your logo, name and any unique phrasing that you don’t want anyone else to use. If you are creating content, artwork, videos, or software programming for your business, copyrighting it is also a good idea to keep other people from stealing it and passing it off as their own. For minimal fees and a little paperwork, you can protect your brand and most valuable assets.

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