Logos: The Gray Area between Copyright and Trademark

Nina L. Kaufman, Esq.

Nina L. Kaufman, Esq.

Nina L. Kaufman, Esq., owner of Ask The Business Lawyer, is an award-winning business attorney, speaker, and Entrepreneur Magazine online contributor. She saves consulting and professional services companies time, money, and aggravation by serving as their outsourced legal counsel.

Posted on October 26, 2016 in IP & Social Media

Post image for Logos: The Gray Area between Copyright and Trademark
Venn Diagram by Natalie Dee
Artwork by Natalie Dee @ www.NatalieDee.com

In the smoky world that is intellectual property law, some things are clear.  If you write a book on, say, “How to Choose a Business Partner Who Won’t [BLEEP] You,” it is protectable under U.S. copyright laws. If you come up with a nifty tag line for your athletic shoes (“Just Do It”), it’s protectable under the trademark laws. 

But what about logos?

Logos occupy that middle area where copyright and trademark can cross over.  As cogently explained in Plagiarism Today’s post, “Trademark, Copyright and Logos,” nothing in the law makes the two rights mutually exclusive. So if your logo shows a requisite amount of originality, it can qualify for copyright protection. And if it’s also a company or product/service identifier, it can qualify for trademark protection. 

However, that doesn’t mean you can prevent any and all uses of, say, your company name. Ace Hardware and Ace Bandages can peaceably co-exist because they fall into different markets that are unlikely to overlap and cause confusion.

What’s the best way to get maximum protection? Unfortunately, there’s no bright-line rule. It depends on the originality of the logo design, the distinctiveness of the mark, the category of the mark and whether anyone else is using something similar. An experienced intellectual property attorney can help you evaluate the best course of action.

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