Navigating the legal waters of intellectual property can be tricky – here’s what you need to know when it comes to the two most common terms.
Ensuring your brand is legally protected is crucial if you’re going to compete in the ever-crowding alcohol beverage market. When it comes to developing your logo, package design, and other intellectual property, it’s important to know the difference between Copyright vs. Trademark so that you know what to protect, and how. Failing to ensure proper ownership of your brand could be a devastating mistake if done incorrectly and could lead to legal conflicts, your product being pulled from shelves, a “redo” to your name and packaging, and even having to pay damages.
The Difference Between Copyright & Trademark
A copyright is a form of legal protection granted by federal law that protects tangible “works of authorship”. The law grants the owner the exclusive right to display, reproduce, and distribute the work and endures for the lifetime of the original author, plus 70 years following the author’s death. In the world of alcohol beverage packaging, copyright law applies to your label and/or bottle artwork. Technically copyright law protects your work the moment it is created, but it is good practice to register a copyright to formally document your claim, should you ever find yourself in an infringement lawsuit.
Pro Tip: If you’re working with a designer or agency for your brand, make sure that copyright terms are clear in your agreement and that you know “who owns what” upon conclusion of the project.
According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) “a trademark includes any word, name, symbol, devise, or any combination, used or intended to be used to identify and distinguish the goods/services of one seller or provider from those of others, and to indicate the source of the goods/services.”
In other words, a trademark protects your brand name and any logos, symbols, phrases, tag lines or designs that identify the source of your product, and a copyright protects your label/packaging artwork, along with any other materials that support the brand (websites, marketing collateral, etc.).
Protecting Your Brand With A Trademark
You can begin the process to protect your brand with a trademark by doing some simple legwork yourself. First search the work you wish to protect such as a name or logo on a database like the USPTO database. For a brand name, it is also a good idea to check the TTB COLAs filings to see if any competitors are using the name already. If your creative works pass these filters, you’ll want to fill out a trademark application and hire a trademark attorney to help guide the process from here. While there are common-law standards for trademark protection, it is always advised to get formal trademark protection to prove ownership if a conflict should arise in the future.
Should you wish to register your label artwork for copyright yourself, you can do so online.
USPTO – Trademark Process
Trademark Search – USPTO Database
Disclaimer: The information presented in this post is not legal advice, is not to be acted on as such, may not be current, and is subject to change without notice. The information presented herein is based on my own observations and knowledge working as a creative professional.
photo credit: 3D Judges Gavel via photopin (license)
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Brittany ( @philosophize101 ) saysJanuary 4, 2016 at 12:46 pm
This is seriously the most valuable thing I’ve read this year…i think I’m going to adore reading your stuff. Thanks.
David Schuemann saysJanuary 4, 2016 at 1:27 pm
Thanks, Brittany! Let me know if there are any other topic ideas you’d like me to write about.