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Trademark and Copyright Considerations for Small Businesses

Trademarks and copyrights can be used to prevent your company’s original creations or identifying features from being misappropriated illegally.

A trademark can be registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) for a brand name, slogan, logo or other mark used to distinguish the goods or services of its owner. If a company’s trademark in the form of an identifying word, name, symbol, phrase or design meets the USPTO’s registration criteria, it can be registered with the USPTO.

A copyright (which is different than a trademark) deposited with the U.S. Copyright Office (USCO) can establish one’s ownership of originally authored written works, musical compositions, software programs, architectural designs, films and other media.

However, there are right ways and wrong ways of acquiring and preserving protections for your valuable intellectual property. Here are some steps you can take to help avert legal woes.

  • Do the research — You may shield yourself from major headaches and infringement claims by doing thorough trademark or copyright research, either yourself or through a professional. An experienced researcher can inform you about any other businesses using slogans, logos or other brand materials similar to the one you hope to use. It is better to know that you need to change identifying brand details before creating marketing materials. If you don’t do the research and simply hope your brand is unique, an infringement claim could arise.
  • Put Others on Notice of Your Intellectual Property —Use of the “TM” symbol by a person or business is an informal way of putting others on notice that the user of the “TM” symbol is claiming the mark as their own (in other words – don’t infringe on this mark). Use of “TM” also shows that the mark is not registered with the USPTO.  Once a mark is registered with the USPTO, the “TM” can be switched to an “(R)” for “registered.”
    A person can claim a copyright for any piece of original, published work by using the symbol “(C)” without depositing the work with the USCO.  However, depositing an original work with the USCO is advisable for the benefits it provides, and it creates an official record of your original work.  Registration of a mark or depositing of an original work also makes your intellectual property discoverable to other people conducting trademark or copyright research.
  • Use the correct symbol — Making “TM,” “(R)” or “(C)” (for copyright) next to your mark or creative work lets others know that you are claiming ownership. This may make someone think twice before mimicking your work for their own benefit and may also be used as evidence in support of your case if you need to file or respond to an infringement claim.

The team of business law attorneys at Hemmer DeFrank Wessels works closely with business owners to establish and assert trademark and copyright protections during business formation and all other stages of operations. To schedule a free initial consultation, call 859-344-1188 or contact us online. We represent clients in Kentucky and Ohio.

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    Phone: 859-344-1188
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