Copyright is a type of intellectual property law that protects original works of authorship. You cannot copyright a brand name alone, but you can protect your brand with a trademark. People and companies usually protect a brand name and an attached logo when registering for a trademark.
What Does a Copyright Protect?
While copyright does not protect a brand, it does protect physical and fixed works created by humans. Fixed works last longer than those that are temporary, such as a classroom seminar.
Works that are eligible for copyright protection fall under the categories of literature, music, drama, pantomime and choreography, art, motion pictures or additional audiovisual works, sound recordings and architecture. Copyright of your work occurs with its creation. Registering for copyright is voluntary and is only necessary when filing a lawsuit for infringement.
Protecting a Brand With a Trademark
You cannot copyright a brand name, phrase or word unless it has a logo attached to it containing sufficient authorship. However, a trademark can protect a brand name without an attached logo. A trademark helps your brand build loyalty and recognition and also protects the consumer from fraudulent brands, companies and products.
Your brand name can be a symbol, name, device or word that identifies your business or product. If yours is the first business to use a specific brand name, then you will get a trademark for the geographic area you're in. To do this, you'll need to register for a trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
You must submit an application to register for a brand name trademark with the USPTO. The organization will file and accept your application as long as you meet its requirements and pay the associated fees.
How to Get a Brand Name
A brand name that is unique will make you stand out from competing companies and individuals. The USPTO often rejects names that are too generic or too descriptive. If you are the first to claim to a brand name, the trademark will be yours, provided you fill out the application correctly.
How to Research Your Brand Name
Before you register, look for your brand name by searching the USPTO's Trademark Electronic Search System database at www.uspto.gov. Here, you can see if it already has a registered trademark. If it does, it is not yours to use. However, if your brand name does not have a trademark, you can register for one. You may want to enlist the help of a trademark attorney to help you conduct a more in-depth search.
In the event someone attempts to use your brand name, a trademark with the USPTO proves that it is yours, and you can file suit against that entity. It is not on you to verify the validity of your trademark in a lawsuit. Rather, it is up to the party attempting to use it to show why your trademark is not valid.
Applying for a Brand Name Trademark
Fill out the trademark application at the USPTO's website with your name, address, the brand name and the product or service it identifies. Make sure to include the filing fee, which will vary depending on the trademark's class of goods and services. If you register in more than one class, you'll have to pay more than one fee.
Take time with your application and fill it out carefully. Errors can cost you time and money if you have to submit a new form. If you have any questions about searching or filing for a brand name trademark, call the Trademark Assistance Center at 800-786-9199 or email TrademarkAssistanceCenter@uspto.gov.