Business Logo: Trademark, Patent, or Copyright: Which is Right for you?

business logo

Have you ever asked yourself, ‘How do I patent my business logo’? Your logo is often the first impression customers get of your business. What’s more, a good logo can be expensive to create. You value it. How frustrated would you be if you saw your logo on the side of another company’s van

Thankfully, there are ways to stop an original logo from being used by a competitor. When you have a logo designed from scratch, you have every right to take legal measures to protect it. Most big brands do this, but it can also be a worthwhile exercise for small businesses. However, if you’re wondering how to patent a logo: Not so fast. 

While many businesses assume they need to patent every aspect of their company, including a creative brand logo, the reality is that patents don’t typically apply to business graphics. Learning to copyright or trademark a logo is more useful. Here are the differences between trademarks, patents, and copyrights. which one is right for protecting your unique business logo. 

Breaking Down Trademark Laws

If you’ve ever noticed a “™” symbol at the end of a word or phrase, you’ve encountered trademarked content. Trademark laws as we know them to have a long history. The first United States trademark law passed in 1870 and was replaced by another one in 1881. Any way you cut it, trademarking a business name or logo is a longstanding tradition. Is trademarking your business logo the right choice for your home services company? Let’s break down the specifics. 

Trademarks: Trademarks are applicable to “Any symbol, phrase, word, or design that pinpoints the source of the goods of one party from those of others.” In other words, trademarks are an excellent match for business logos. Your logo is a symbol that clearly labels your services and distinguishes you from competitors. 

How to Get a Trademark: The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) handles all trademark applications. Before you get ahead of yourself, check the Search trademark database to make sure you’re not trying to trademark something that another company has already claimed the rights to. Even if you were the first company to use your logo, if another business gets to the patent office first, your application will likely be rejected. 

The cost to trademark a logo ranges from about $275 to $325, and you will have to provide a lot of information about how the mark will be used and when you first used it. You can usually expect approval or rejection within six months of applying for your logo’s trademark. 

Rights Granted: When you trademark your business logo, you’re protecting your own right to use it. You’re also preventing other businesses from using a similar symbol in a way that would likely confuse consumers. In other words, another home services business in your region would not be able to adopt a similar logo in an attempt to lure your customers away. 

Length of Protection: If you are granted a trademark for your logo, it’s good for as long as you are actively using the logo to conduct commerce (or, as long as your business is open). 

What is a Business Logo Patent?

Though a lot of businesses wonder how to patent a logo, they probably won’t need to. Though the term patent gets thrown around a lot, it has a specific purpose that doesn’t apply to a logo or other business branding. Still, that doesn’t mean you’ll never need a patent for your business. The product you’re putting a logo on may need to be patented, for instance. Here are some details about what the patent process looks like, just in case your home services business needs one for your branded products. 

Patents: Patents are meant to protect inventions. The purpose of the patent process is to encourage innovation, so businesses are able to claim the rights to the original things they produce. Patents can be applied to a variety of inventions, including machines, chemical combinations, and industrial processes. So while your logo won’t qualify, if you create your own adhesive on the job, you could get a patent to make sure no one can steal the formula for their own. 

How to Get a Patent: Like trademarks, patents are also obtained via an application to the USPTO. According to Nolo, you can file a patent application without an attorney — but be prepared to provide a ton of information. The invention you get patented must be new, useful, and nonobvious (you can’t patent the idea of putting duct tape around a pipe fitting).

You should have dated records of when you created your invention, the process by which you invented it, and how it works. In some cases, you’ll be asked for a prototype. You can apply for a provisional patent first if you want, but you must file a regular patent application eventually to get the actual patent. 

Rights Granted: If you patent your invention, no one else can make, sell, or import your creation. Other companies that try to patent a similar invention may be turned down if their submission is too similar to yours. Of course, this also means you won’t be granted rights if your invention is too similar to one that has already been approved for a patent. 

Length of Protection: A design patent is good for 15 years, and a utility patent offers a protection term of 20 years.

When Copyrighting Makes Sense

Some businesses also concern themselves with how to copyright a logo. Much like a patent, while you may well want to copyright aspects of your business: your logo probably isn’t one of them. When it comes to written works, copyrighting tends to apply to longer content. That being said, copyright can sometimes apply to visual arts. It’s a little tricky. Here are some tips for obtaining copyright in case you do produce a logo or other creative art that needs this level of protection. 

Copyright: Copyright can be obtained for a variety of works. Most commonly, original works of authorship approved for copyright include things like books, songs, articles, photographs, and motion pictures. If you write a manual about how to best fix common plumbing problems, for example, you would be able to copyright it.

In order to qualify for copyright protection, the creative work must be original and in a tangible medium (such as a printed book). If your logo is creative enough, it may qualify as a piece of work worthy of copyright. 

How to Get a Copyright: Copyright applications are handled by the U.S. Copyright Office. You must first set up an account via their registration portal. From there, the online portal will guide you through the process. Like a patent or trademark, you must prove things like ownership and the date of creation to gain the copyright to your content. If there is another work of art that is too close to your own, you may be approved. 

Rights Granted: If you obtain a copyright for your logo or another original work, you can control any reproductions that occur. For instance, if someone takes your logo and changes the color scheme, you would be able to step in and stop them from doing so. You also have the right to control the distribution of your copyrighted content and any future derivative works. 

Length of Protection: A copyright lasts for the entirety of the author’s life, plus 70 years. 

The Final Verdict for Business Logos 

Your business logo should be original, creative, and help your business stand apart. Your instinct to protect it is correct. But instead of worrying how to patent a logo or struggling to prove it qualifies for copyright, your time is better spent working to obtain a trademark. The trademark process is specifically designed around protecting the rights of a symbol or design used in commerce. 

Trademarking your logo means that your investment in an original symbol can’t be hijacked by another company in your region. You don’t want people to be confused about which van or billboard belongs to you; they could end up calling the wrong number and you’ll lose business. Best of all, a trademark is good for the entire time that you’re still using the logo to conduct business. 

How to Create a Logo Worth a Trademark

Are you still in the stages of planning your logo? It could begin with a logo generator for inspiration. Thanks to customization tools, you could get a basic logo started using a generator that motivates you to create something more intricate.

You can also out your current logo through a logo grader to find out how it ranks in categories that include color contrast, relatability, uniqueness. Getting a grade on your logo will give you an idea of how to improve it before you submit it for a trademark. Finally, you may want to turn to an expert to create a logo from scratch. The cost of an original logo ranges from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars, depending on the level of detail you require. You have a better chance to be approved for tademark with an orginal logo.

Standing out in your local market will make or break your success. Your logo, when combined with an interesting tagline and identifiable name, will leave an impression. In the end, your logo will become associated with your reputation. Don’t let another business steal your logo and your hard-earned good rep: protect it now!