LEGAL CORNER: Is there a difference between a trademark and copyright?

Published: Sep. 6, 2023 at 11:59 AM CDT
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LAKE CHARLES, La. (KPLC) - Legal Corner answers viewers’ civil legal questions.

QUESTION: Is there a difference between a trademark and copyright? If there is, what are the differences and what are some examples of each? How does someone obtain a trademark? Why should someone protect their creation?

ANSWER: Intellectual property (“IP”) is “a commercially valuable product of the human intellect, in a concrete or abstract form such as a copyrightable work, a protectable trademark, a patentable invention, or a trade secret.” Black’s Law Dictionary. IP refers to creations of the mind; a work or invention that is the result of creativity.

A trademark is a word, phrase, design or a combination that identifies one’s goods or services, distinguishes them from the goods or services of others, and indicates the source of one’s goods or services.

A copyright is a type of intellectual property that protects original works of authorship (artistic, literary, or intellectually created works). It is the exclusive right of the owner of an intellectual production to multiply and dispose of copies; the sole right to the copy, or to copy it. Black’s Law Dictionary.

IP also comprises trade secrets and patents. Just as with trademarks and copyrights, a person or business can claim exclusive rights to the products and processes that these protections safeguard.

Trademark examples:

  • Sounds (such the distinct KPLC logo and the NBC chimes)
  • Business names
  • Slogans (such as Nike’s “Just Do It”)
  • Color combinations or schemes (such as the brown of a UPS truck)

Copyright examples:

  • Lyrics for songs
  • Musical compositions
  • Photographs
  • Paintings
  • Books
  • Computer programs
  • Plays
  • Movies

Applying for a trademark used to be a paper-filing process. The United States Patent and Trademark Office has created an online process, which can be found at

Multiple stages of application and review are involved, which can lead to a twelve- to 18-month wait for a decision.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office grants patents and registers trademarks.

The U.S. Copyright Office at the Library of Congress registers copyrights.

There are benefits of federal protection for trademarks and copyrights. Registering trademarks protects the trademark from being registered by others without permission and helps the owner prevent others from using a trademark that is similar to his or hers with related goods or services. Registering copyrights protects a creator’s exclusive right to reproduce, distribute, and perform or display the created work, and prevents other people from copying or exploiting the creation without the copyright holder’s permission.