How To Copyright & Trademark a Logo

Arek Dvornechcuck
Branding Expert

I'm a strategist and designer based in New York who help brands grow by crafting distinctive brand identities, backed by strategy. Need help with your project?—Get in touch

Your brand name was chosen, your logo was designed and the logo files were delivered—now you need to protect your brand assets.

There are many unscrupulous people out there ready to infringe on your creative intellectual property.

Trademark your logo to protect it from being stolen.

No matter the size or the industry your company operates in, you should file for logo trademark yourself or hire a trademark attorney to do it for you.

Table of Contents:

  1. Copyright vs. Trademark
  2. Copyright Protection
  3. Trademark Protection
  4. Which Protection to Use
  5. How to Copyright a Logo
  6. How to Trademark a Logo
  7. Copyright Infringement
  8. Trademark Infringement
  9. Logo Infringement Cases

How simple it is, when you hear intellectual property attorneys describe the difference of both: copyright and trademark laws.

  • Copyright covers creative works of expression fixed into a tangible medium of expression.
  • Trademark covers business names, slogans and other items used to identify it in the marketplace.
Copyright, Trademark and Logos
Should I copyright or trademark my logo?

However, there is a great deal of overlap between two areas of copyright and trademark, and businesses are known for using both to protect their logos from undesired use.

  • Copyright is designed to protect against almost all unlicensed copying that is outside of fair use.
  • Trademark only deals with use of the mark that causes confusion in that company’s marketplace.

In short, trademark is designed not to prevent copying, but confusion in the marketplace, thus severely limiting what uses of the logo can be considered infringing.

We need to delve deeper in the copyright/trademark law to understand the difference.In this article, I will provide you with a complete instruction about the correct use of both copyright and trademark laws.Looking to trademark you logo and brand name? - Use LegalZoom, prices start at $199

Start your trademark process.
Start your trademark process.

First, let’s differentiate these two terms.

1. Copyright vs. Trademark

The only way to achieve protection is through a copyright, trademark or both. And here lies the confusion with logos - many of them actually qualify for both trademark and copyright protection.

What's the difference between copyright and trademark?
Copyright vs Trademark
Copyright vs. Trademark

In order to have a better understanding of how copyright and trademark work, it’s helpful to know which type of intellectual properties each one protects.

The biggest difference between them is that copyrighting won’t protect your brand’s name and logo from infringement, but a trademark will.

Copyright is made for artistic works protection (i.e. its authorship)

A common symbol for the copyright is ©, but you can also add ‘Copyright’ or ‘Copr.’ and even your name and year the work was published.For example "© 2018 by ebaqdesign" at the bottom of my website claims right to everything on it.

Trademark is made to prevent confusion in the company’s marketplace.

There are different symbols for trademark protection:

  • ™ for the unregistered trademark
  • ℠ for the unregistered service trademark
  • ® for the registered trademark

The process of both copyright and trademark takes time to get final approval, but by starting now you preserve your rights to ownership and thus legal remedy.On the other hand, if you don't have a trademark or copyright you may not be able to sue another party for infringement of your logo.

2. Copyright Protection

Did you know that you already have a copyright in your logo at the moment you draw it?
Copyright © Symbol
Copyright protection ©

Did you know that due to The U.S. Copyright Law, every original work of authorship is under protection, automatically.

On it's most basic level, copyright of unique visual design is automatic, and originates with the designer.

Any unique logo that I designed for a client will have automatically had copyright assigned to it, and to me.

Read more about copyright basics for graphic designers on AIGA's website.

The copyright law protects "original works of authorship" expressed in a physical form (i.e. books, movies, songs, paintings, photos, choreography, logos etc.)

However, copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, it protects the only the unique way you expressed these things in your work.

In other words, copyright law protects the "expression" of an idea, but copyright does not protect the "idea" itself.

The distinction between the idea and the expression is fundamental in the Copyright law.

Read more about it in Copyright Act of 1976.

How copyright works

Copyright law grants authors and artists the exclusive right to make and sell copies of their works, the right to create derivative works, and the right to perform or display their works publicly.

In order for a work to have copyright protection, it must reach a requisite level of creativity.

Many logos, however, do not - this is one difficulty about logo copyright registration.

Since copyright can’t protect a name, colors or the design of the logo, most simple logos simply do not have the required level of creativity to be considered copyrightable.

When you register the copyright, you are able to sue everybody, who tries to copy your work or exploit it for his own purposes.

Since your copyright is registered federally, you are in charge of your property usage, publishing, distribution, and presentation to the audience.

That's why you must must transfer the copyright to the client at the time of the logo artwork delivery.

How to transfer a logo copyright to the client?

While a logo designer automatically gets the copyright, the transfer of the existing copyright to the client, isn't done automatically.

Neither is it a 'given' when invoices are paid, and designer and client part ways.

The logo rights that has to be initiated by the designer, or suggested by the client.

So after the logo is selected, and no further changes need to be made, I sign a written contract, that states I am transferring all ownership and copyright to my client.

Still have some questions that remain unanswered?

Read more about the Copyright law on Wikipedia.

3. Trademark Protection

Trademark is about protecting things that identify a business in the marketplace and logos are among the most important means of identification.

As such, logos are generally protected by trademark and enforceable as such.

Trademark protects all details of your work (names, words, colors, font etc.)
Trademark (R) Symbol ®
Trademark protection ®

Trademark can be both words combination, symbol or type of design, which differentiate your particular brand from many others, who are offering same products and services, as you.

While copyright protects your work authorship, a trademark protect all the details so no one else can use it.

Trademark protects details like: mark, name, font, colors.
Elements protected by trademark
Elements protected by trademark

If you want to protect your brand identity you have to register a trademark for your company name, logos, and slogans.

By using the trademark symbol, you notify other people that products they use are your property.

In order to prevent unauthorized use of your mark by third parties, you have to choose a strong one.

Brands, which are the most powerful nowadays, are the excellent example of how strong mark should be created.

Looking at the brands such as Google, Apple or Microsoft we can see examples of how to create a strong trademark:

  • registering the name, which doesn’t exist as the word;
  • a simple word, which is totally unrelated to the products you produce;
  • words, which are generic to your product (f.e. ‘Cookies’ for a specific type of cookies) either obviously describe things you produce(f.e. ‘Peanut bar’ for the bar with the peanut).

The three symbols that represent trademark are the circled R (®), little capital letters TM (™), and the little capital letters SM (℠).

Different trademark symbols
Trademark symbols: R, TM, SM

The circled R can only be used once you have a federal registration.

This means you’ve applied for it and received a trademark registration from the US government.

This is serious, because using that circled R is actually a violation of federal law unless you have the trademark, even when application is pending.

However, you can use the (™) from the moment you apply, or before.

For example:

  1. You're a lawyer that offer legal services. It’s a service mark (℠).
  2. You sell goods, e.g. clothing. It's a trademark (™).

Have some questions about the trademark law what remain unanswered?

Check this Trademark FAQ.

4. Which Protection to Use

If you design a logo for yourself or your business, you actually may, if the logo qualifies, have two forms of intellectual property protection on it:

  • Trademark to prevent others from using it in the marketplace
  • Copyright to prevent most other unwanted copying
Logo trademark vs copyright
A dilemma: copyright or trademark, or both?

It may take time to get final approval for a trademark or copyright, but starting the process preserves your rights to ownership and thus legal remedy.

Anyway, when it comes to making a choice between them, a lot of doubts comes up, hence many logos initially qualify for both copyright and trademark.

Logo design protection is a complex part of intellectual property law because they often overlay.

If you don't have a trademark or copyright you may not be able to sue another party for infringement on your logo.

As we already established, copyright is responsible for the ownership of the artistic work, while trademark protects your brand authenticity.

To specify, trademark protection relates more to confusion in the global/local market, rather than to the unauthorized use of the logo.

This means both the terms protect your intellectual property, but different its aspects.

In the United States, you don't have to register copyright and trademark.

You own copyright as soon as you put your work on the paper or on the computer so as the trademark just when you started to use name or logo for business promotion.

Both copyright and trademark help you to secure your rights.

In case of copyright, you protect your original idea and logo design from being stolen.

However, trademark never expires, as long as your brand exists people will recognize your business with it.

Although registered trademark protects all details your logo was made from, you won't be able to protect your logo authorship without registered copyright.

5. How to Copyright a Logo

In assume that your home country is US.

If you're looking to for specific instructions on how to do the process in the UK - check this article instead.

Before claiming the copyright, do a research among all existing logos on the U.S. Copyright Office website to ensure your logo design is unique.

logo copyright
How to copyright a logo.

Besides, it is crucial to officially define, who holds the copyright for the logo (the creator of logo or business, for which this logo was made) to prevent possible conflicts about further actions.

How much does it cost to copyright a logo?It can cost you anywhere from $35-85 depending if you apply online or by mail, and if you select the category (less work for USCO).

How to copyright a logo step-by-step:

  1. Fill out the application online on the official site of United States Copyright Office. Besides, you can also submit the application in a paper form.
  2. Pay a registration fee (for the logo it’s $39) with a card, electronic check or your deposit account with the U.S. Copyright Office.
  3. Send nonreturnable copies of your logo (if it was already published somewhere you have to send two copies if it wasn’t yet – only one).
  4. Wait for a confirmation mail.

Despite the way you apply for the copyright and the application phase, your copyright is effective since the date you submitted the form, NOT the date of its approval.

As for registered copyright, you can protect usage of your logo, its publishing, distribution, and control how it is presented to the public.

6. How to Trademark a Logo

Having a registered trademark helps your clients to differentiate products from services your brand offers.

But before you start you trademarking process:

Make sure that your logo is available for your adoption and use

As it reads on the Jacob Cass' blog.

logo trademark
How to trademark a logo design

As well as for the copyright, you should search the USPTO's database for trademarks, similar to your logo, and evaluate ones you find for possible conflicts.

It will save you both money and efforts you could spend for the whole registration procedure because the USPTO doesn't make any research for similar logos until the very moment you submit the application.

For registering a trademark for your logo you have to:

  • File an application via Trademark Electronic Application System (TEAS), which requires a detailed description of your logo and what it represents.
  • Check the status of your application (normally it takes about 4 months to finish the process, but it may vary).
  • Set up a “trademark watch” service to protect your rights.

In case of registered trademark, you can protect your brand identity and, what is the most important – prevent usage of your name and design by third parties.

7. Copyright Infringement

When your work is copied, distributed or publicly show without the permission of the copyright owner it’s considered the copyright infringement.

In order to get a compensation, you have to prove that person copied your work.

After you proved that infringement was made, you can sue the infringing side.

In order to avoid copyright infringement treat an artistic logo the same as you would any other photograph or painting and don’t make any use of it that you wouldn’t if it weren’t a logo.

In fact, you are much more likely to have a copyright dispute over a stock photo that you place on your blog than a logo really.

8. Trademark Infringement

When the third party is using your trademark without authorization, which causes confusion about the source of the product it is considered trademark infringement.

Trademark Infringement

In order to claim trademark infringement, you have to prove you own a valid mark and it has a priority to the infringing one, and that infringing side is actually causing confusion in the customers’ minds.

Similarly to copyright infringement, when you prove your brand is actually suffering from trademark infringement, you are able to sue defendant mark.

Did you know that companies, such as Tiffany, have trademarked their core brand colors?

This simply means e.g. that Pandora can't use the turquoise tiffany color.

The law says that your trademark is infringed upon when another company’s brand elements are similar enough to confuse consumers.

Trademark infringement not only make a loss in sells, but also hurts the brand when another one use similar elements but produce inferior quality.

9. Logo Infringement Cases

If you’re still in doubt about registering the copyright and trademark for your brand's logo, these examples will convince you of their importance.

Apple VS Apfelkind

Apfelkind copyright dispute

Apfelkind (eng. apple child), a small cafe in Bonn, Germany, suddenly received a logo copyright claim from the Apple.

Due to the Apple, cafe's logo (red apple within child's face) confuses customers and let them think that cafe is connected with tech giant in some way.

As long as the owner of cafe Christin Roma refuses to change her cafe logo, Apple won't give up to sue everybody who dares to use an apple in the logo.

Louis Vuitton VS Louis Vuitton Dak

Louis Vuiton Dak vs Louis Vuitton[/caption]

One of the funniest logo infringement cases was a Louis Vuitton claim against a South Korean fried chicken restaurant – Louis Vuitton Dak.

The restaurant wasn't only using the mirrored logo of the famous brand for their packages, but even stole the name of it.

When restaurant rapidly changed its name to LOUISVOI TONDAK, Lous Vuitton sued the fast-food company for $1,450,000 more for non-compliance.


Your ideas and works are unique only when they belong to you exclusively.

The best way to protect your business is to start with filing you application.

Of course it can take weeks or months to trademark your logo and name, but you're protected from the moment you filed the application!Looking to trademark you logo and brand name?

Use LegalZoom, prices start at $199

Start your trademark process.
Start you logo trademark
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