What Roles do Copyrights and Patents Play in Protecting Names?

The short answer to this should be None. However, they are so often confused you might believe what you see in other articles or brochures. Or even, in my case, what I saw on the blood donation card where they check what drugs you have been taking. Next to every brand name drug they had carefully put the © symbol! So let’s examine this a bit further and straighten out as many people as possible.

PatentCertificateFirstly, a Patent protects an invention or idea. It has to be unique or different and you have to be the first to do this and document it, generally speaking. The difference you invent compared to other patents in the same general area can be very small. But it does not need a name. Most patents are tracked by patent number or author, and few of them have specific or even general names at all. The only commonality they have with trademarks, which are the proper way to protect names, is that in most countries the Patent and Trademark Office is the same government oversight body. Often it is called the Intellectual Property Office or department. But once you get inside the door (literally or figuratively), you go one way for patents and another for trademarks, and there is no connection at all. In the USA their headquarters are even in separate buildings.

Secondly, a Copyright provides copy protection to some creative work, typically written, including song scores and computer code, in addition to articles, books, web pages, plays, movie scripts, etc. A lot of copyright protection is implicit. For example, as the author of this article I automatically own the copyright unless it has been assigned to my employer. Even as a contractor, I own rights in what I write unless I assign them to the firm that hired me. But protection is for a “body of work”. Not for the name you came up with for your Grandma’s new cookies.

CopyrightSymbolIn many law firms, copyrights are handled by their intellectual property (I/P) law department and are more closely aligned with the trademark functions than with the patent people. Same in most countries, though in the USA, if you want formal copyright registration, you simply complete a basic form from the Library of Congress.

So Copyrighting a page or script has nothing to do with a name or a title, though seeing a name on a page or website used properly in context may help you claim Common Law Rights in a name if you haven’t yet got around to filing for trademark protection.

As naming consultants, when customers ask us if we will also do the copyright checks on names we provide, we simply smile and say “Yes, we will check the trademarks on all names on all lists we provide.” We even go so far as to send them a letter at the end of the project telling them how to properly use the ™ symbol immediately and how to proceed towards getting the magic registered trademark ® designation.

Maybe next time I give blood I will politely point out how they should write Plavix® or Nexium® properly with the magic ® symbol that only an approved trademark registration provides.

Now to do it right, see these articles on filing trademarks, as well as the Resources section of Brighter Naming’s website for the differences between trademarks, service marks and tradenames:

Protecting your new product or service name

9 Steps to file your own trademark.

<– Return to Naming and Branding Articles

© Copyright 2014 Athol Foden and Brighter Naming ® You are welcome to link to these articles but not to copy them in any manner whatsoever.