I was reminded this week that, when it comes to brand protection, the majority of business owners actually know very little about their legal rights and that (probably thanks to the internet) a lot of misconceptions about copyrights and trademarks abound.
Prompted by a letter received by one of our clients, from a local business who felt that the use of certain words in a speech bubble in a design we produced constituted some form of commercial identity threat to their business, their naive claim that their brand was “copyrighted” (followed by a swift and not so subtle sales pitch for the sale of their own design skills) got me thinking that it would be a good opportunity to outline what brand protections you actually have, and what business owners can do to further protect their company’s identity.
Let’s start with COPYRIGHT shall we?
As serious as the letter may have been, it actually made me laugh. Why? Well, simply put, they obviously hand’t a clue what they were talking about because copyright applies TEXT and text only. This article, for instance, is copyrighted which essentially means that if anyone wants to reproduce it in it’s entirety or part, they must either pay me for the pleasure or seek my permission. What it doesn’t mean is that I have copy “rights” over the individual words used in the article, just their specific arrangement in this context, on this occasion.
So, unless you are using made up words in your logo or company name, you have NO copyright over those words whatsoever.
Copyrighted text is identified with the use of a C in a circle symbol ( © ) and can usually be found as standard marks on websites, books, magazines and most printed publications.
So let’s take a look at TRADEMARKS then….How are they different?
Trademarks are long established or formally registered visuals and text that is synonymous with your company. In order to be protected, the business must pay to go through an extensive process that verifies your identity is unique to you and does not infringe on anyone else’s identity. You can trademark both the text AND ths visuals that help people identify your business or product and it’s advisable to do both at the same time.
A text trademark gives you rights over that combination of words, used in the context of your business promotions and in specified industrial categories which you must choose as part of the application process. Non competing companies can have exactly the same words, and even a similar logo, registered as a trademark for a completely different industry without infringing your legal rights.
Put simply, if you haven’t parted with cash with the Intellectual Property Office and got a piece of paper saying your brand is a registered trademark, you have very little protection at all.
Trademarks that are registered bear the R in a circle signature ( ® ). Those brands that are NOT registered, or are pending registration, use the TM signature ( ™ ).
Of course, protecting your brand is one thing, but defending it is a whole other story. If you are serious about trademark defence, it’s probably best to familiarise yourself with the meaning of the phrase “cease and desist” and have a standard letter you can issue in the event someone steps on your branded toes. Trademark defences can be costly, but if the threat to your reputation or business is significant then it’s worth consideration. Trademarks can also be handy when dealing with multinational media such as Facebook and TripAdvisor and we’ve had several successes getting them to change damaging, duplicated or uncontrolled content on these sites by quoting client’s trademark rights.
And, if you ever come to sell your business, a registered trademark adds value to your business, affording the buyer peace of mind and ensures you can drive a return on your brand investment.