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The difference between Copyright and Trade Marks?

The difference between Copyright and Trade Marks?

This is a question we receive from many clients. It is important to understand the difference between these key Intellectual Property rights in order to understand the protection that you have and, more importantly, the protection you do not. 

What is copyright?

Copyright is a form of intellectual property which aims to protect the expression of ideas. It primarily protects literary works (e.g. books), dramatic works (e.g. screenplays), musical works (including recordings other than traditional ‘music’), and artistic works (e.g. paintings). Importantly, if a work qualifies for copyright protection, it is protected as soon as it is recorded. You do not have to apply  for copyright protection in the UK, nor is there anyway to register this copyright in the UK.

This right gives the copyright owner the ability to control what happens with the copyright protected work. Copying, performing, adapting, or otherwise communicating the copyrighted work to the public, among other actions, are infringing acts which the owner of a copyright  work can take action against. 

What are trade marks? 

Trade marks are signs such as names, logos etc. and are normally used as protections for brands. For something to be registerable as a trade mark, it must be able to function as an indicator of the origin of goods. In other words, average consumers looking at the trade mark should be able to identify it with a specific brand. Trade marks can therefore include words, slogans, designs (e.g. the Guinness harp), numbers (Levi’s 501 jeans), internet domains, and even the shape of some goods (e.g. Toblerone chocolate triangles).

Importantly, unlike copyright, trade marks can be registered. Although unregistered brands can still be protected via a passing off action, this can be time consuming and expensive. In contrast, use of a registered trade mark without permission is actionable infringement, without the need to prove anything else.

Is there any overlap between the two?

There is often not a direct overlap between the two – if something is protected by copyright, it generally cannot be protected in the same way by trade marks. If something is a creative expression, it is likely to be protected by copyright; if it is intended to link the creator to the goods/services, it is more likely to be protected by trade marks.

However, an individual or company may be both a copyright and trade mark owner for different aspects of the same creation. For example, an artist may create a painting which would be protected by copyright, and also trade mark their name, signature, and logo. The logo itself could also attract copyright protection and be capable of registration as a trade mark.

How can Thorntons Trade Mark Agency help?

The creation, protection, and maintenance of your trade marks and other intellectual property assets is crucial to giving your business the best opportunity to be successful. Whether you are a registered trade mark owner, or a business looking to acquire a new trademark, we are happy to be of assistance. We have a team of trade mark experts, including a Trade Mark Attorney, with specialist knowledge and experience on hand to help you. We will guide you through the process, providing you with a bespoke service tailored to your business’s needs.

Call us on 03330 430350 for comprehensive trade mark and brand protection support and advice.

About the authors

Kirsty Stewart
Kirsty Stewart

Kirsty Stewart

Legal Director & Trade Mark Attorney

Intellectual Property, Trade Marks

Hannah Smethurst
Hannah Smethurst

Hannah Smethurst

Trainee Solicitor

For more information, contact Kirsty Stewart on +44 1382 346807.