Logo Protection: First Copyright then Trademark
New business owners are eager to protect their names and logos, but often don’t understand what law applies, when to protect them and how to protect them.
It’s no wonder business owners are muddled – logos are directly in the intersection of copyright law and trademark law!
The first step is to make sure you own the copyright in your logo. Many business owners erroneously think they automatically own artwork they paid for from an independent contractor. It is important to make sure your graphic designer assigns all rights in the artwork/logo to your business. For more information on “works made for hire,” click here.
Copyrights in works of art (including photographs or software) can be registered with the US Copyright Office, but logos and slogans are not registerable.
If the logo is being used to identify your company’s products or services (think the Nike swoosh, the Chevrolet bowtie, or the McDonald’s golden arches), trademark law applies.The name of your company and the logo can both function as trademarks.
Trademark protection stops other businesses from confusing/stealing your customers without any kind of registration. This protection, called “common-law” trademark protection is very weak and hard to enforce. You can apply for the exclusive use of your trademark in either North Carolina or federally. For more information about trademark registration, click here.
Before you go live with your trademark (often known as branding), it is important to make sure you are not infringing anyone else’s trademark. You can do this by searching the Internet and the USPTO trademark database for similar names/logos in similar services.