Know the Difference Between Copyright and Trademark

Though there can be some overlap, copyright and trademark are two distinct areas of intellectual property law. “There’s a lot of confusion for Joe Average laypeople about the difference,” says Ruth Carter, a Phoenix-based attorney who specializes in intellectual property.

Copyright protects original works of art, “fixed in a tangible medium of expression,” explains Christine E. Weller, an associate at Griesing Law in Philadelphia. The creator doesn’t need to register the work with the U.S. Copyright Office to be protected, but that official registration is required in order to sue someone infringing on the work for statutory damages, she adds.

Trademark protects the images and terms associated with a product, such as logos, slogans and other branding. Trademarks can also refer to “trade dress,” protecting certain color combinations, the shape of a Coke bottle or other brand-distinguishing characteristics, notes Alex Butterman, a trademark attorney with Staas & Halsey in Washington, D.C.