Trademark vs. Copyright: Which Should You Choose for Your Small Business?

Sep 24, 2021
4 minute read
A man reviews paperwork while deciding between copyright and trademark for his business

If you’re a new entrepreneur, it can be complicated to get a handle on all the information you need in order to protect your business and your intellectual property. If you’re feeling overwhelmed about intellectual property protection, don’t worry because you’ve come to the right place. 

Both copyrights and trademarks can be a valuable business asset to protect you against intellectual property theft. In this article, we’ll explain everything you need to know about copyrights and trademarks, including the difference between the two and how each protects your business. 

Copyrights and trademarks defined

In the business world, it’s not uncommon for people to confuse copyrights and trademarks. While both are about your intellectual property rights and legal protections for original creations, they are not interchangeable. We’ll get into the definitions of both copyrights and trademarks so that you can have a better understanding of how each one functions and under what circumstances you would copyright something, as opposed to trademarking it.

What is copyright?

The Government of Canada describes copyright as the exclusive legal right to produce, reproduce, publish or perform an original literary, dramatic or musical work. In other words, copyright protection can apply to any original creative or intellectual work. This could encompass things like video materials, sound recordings, software code, an original piece of artwork, and many more.

In most cases, the creator of the work in question will be the copyright owner. However, if the work is created while you are employed, your employer could be the copyright holder. It depends on your contract or written copyright agreement with your employer.

What’s a trademark?

Trademark is defined by the Canadian government as a combination of letters, words, sounds or designs that distinguish one company’s goods or services from those of others in the marketplace. A trademark should protect the use of things like your company name, the names of your products, and various brand identity assets, like your logo or slogan. By trademarking your company name, you’ll be able to prevent having your business be confused with another business with the same name.

For example, think about a recognizable name and logo like Coca-Cola’s. Their logo is a valuable asset to the company because it creates brand recognition and has built a reputation in the marketplace. If another company were to use the same logo, it would create confusion among consumers.

What’s the difference between copyright and trademark?

Now that you have a general sense of what copyrights and trademarks are, let’s get even more specific about the types of content each one protects and how the two differ.

What does a copyright protect?

Both copyright and trademark protect original work, but a copyright specifically applies to creations like a book, screenplay, product designs, music videos, intellectual and artistic works, and many more.

When you use the copyright symbol next to your work, it lets consumers know that you have legally registered the copyright for your intellectual property. This prevents others from using your creation without explicit permission. You can choose to keep the copyright for yourself, or you could license it’s use to create an additional stream of income. 

How to protect your copyright

You’ll probably be happy to know that an original work receives automatic copyright protection at the time of creation, meaning you don’t have to register your work in order to have legal rights to its usage. Even though automatic copyright means you’re technically protected, an official copyright registration will provide you with evidence that you own the work in question. This will make it a lot quicker and less expensive if you end up having to go to court to seek remedies for copyright infringement.

In Canada, your copyright will be valid throughout your lifetime plus 50 years after your death. Once the copyright runs out, your creation will be in the public domain, where anyone can use it (with some exceptions).

What does a trademark protect?

Like a copyright, a trademark protects an original work. Unlike copyright, trademarks only apply to protecting items that make up your brand identity or distinguish your business in the marketplace. Your business’s brand identity defines your public image and reputation in the eyes of consumers.

There are two types of trademarks: an ordinary mark and a certification mark.

An ordinary mark is defined by the Government of Canada as something that may include words, designs, tastes, textures, moving images, modes of packaging, holograms, sounds, scents, three-dimensional shapes, colours or a combination of these used to distinguish goods or services. In other words, when you register for an ordinary mark trademark, you are protecting something specific to your company or brand that no one else can use without your permission. You can also protect things like your business name by incorporating your business.

On the other hand, a certification mark can be licensed to many people or companies for the purpose of identifying that certain goods or services meet a defined standard, according to the Government of Canada. This means that multiple companies can use the same certification mark on their products, so long as they meet the requirements and have been officially certified to do so. This mark acts as a seal of approval to let consumers know your product meets certain industry standards.

How to protect a trademark

A registered trademark allows you to protect your intellectual property from being misused by others, and it gives you exclusive rights to the work throughout Canada for 10 years, after which it can be renewed. Trademark registration provides business owners with evidence that you own the trademark, which you may need if you require legal assistance for a trademark-related issue. 

While a copyright and a trademark cover different situations, there may be some overlap depending on the type of original creation you are trying to protect. For example, something like a logo could be copyrighted and trademarked, since it is both an original artistic creation and a brand asset for your company.

Now that you know all there is to know about copyright vs. trademark, you’ll be able to feel confident in protecting your business’s intellectual property moving forward.

Ready to start your business? Ownr has helped over 40,000+ entrepreneurs hit the ground running quickly—and affordably. If you have questions about how to register or incorporate your business, email us at support@ownr.com.