Intellectual Property Protection

John Flottmeyer
March 2, 2011 0 Comment

We design logos… we don’t do the trademark or copyright, but we wanted to provide you with some information on what does intellectual property mean and what steps do you need to take to protect your logo and brand.

I met Sharra last year at a WIN event, Women In Networking, where she was the guest speaker. She provided a lot of knowledge to questions I have always had. Her guest posts will be the next few weeks – so be sure to check back if you find this information valuable for your company.

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What Type of Intellectual Property Protection Does My Business Need?
by Sharra S. Brockman, Esq.

VervAs an intellectual property attorney specializing in trademark and copyright law, I spend a lot of time helping small business owners understand what type of intellectual property protection is appropriate for their businesses.

I usually start by explaining the difference between a copyright and a trademark. Although both protect intellectual property, the basis for each type of protection is different.

A copyright is designed to protect the author or creator of a work. A “work” could be a book, a painting, a sound recording, or a brochure – almost any original work of authorship that’s been fixed in a tangible medium of expression. If I’ve written a book called “The Lifecycle of a Grub,” for example, copyright laws grant me the exclusive right to reproduce my book, prepare derivatives, distribute copies, and to display or perform readings from my book publicly. I can choose to grant some or all of these rights to others via a license, or I can choose to deny them. We give authors these exclusive rights to encourage creativity and originality.

A copyright can be relatively easy for a small business to obtain. The moment a work is fixed in that tangible medium, copyright attaches — no notice, no registration required. There are benefits to formally applying for a registration with the U.S. Copyright Office, though, and since the electronic filing fee is only $35, it’s often well worth it. A copyright will generally last for the life of the author plus 70 years.

While a copyright protects the author, a trademark, on the other hand, is designed to protect consumers. At the root of nearly all trademark infringement cases lies an analysis of the likelihood of consumer confusion. A trademark – which could be a logo, brand name, or even a color – acts as a source-identifier, distinguishing Starbucks coffee from Caribou or Coca-Cola from Pepsi. If I paid $11 to buy a package branded just like my all-time favorite Charmin Ultra Soft toilet paper, and opened it to discover a product that feels like recycled sandpaper, I’d not only be confused, I’d be upset.

Obtaining a federal trademark registration is usually more complicated than obtaining a copyright registration. It’s a bit of an over-simplification, but in order to be eligible for a federal trademark, your mark must be used in interstate commerce and must not, of course, be confusingly similar to another trademark already in use. The fees are also higher: $275 for a basic application. However, a trademark can last indefinitely, as long as it remains in use and renewal paperwork is filed.

When you’re trying to decide what type of intellectual property protection you might need, ask whether you’re concerned about the author’s creative expression itself, or if you’re concerned about the public’s ability to identify you as the source of a product or service. It’s not foolproof, but it’s a helpful starting point.

(for a more in-depth look at copyright and trademarks, visit and check out the Articles page)

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