Trademark vs. copyright

Remay Villaester (May)

If you’ve launched a new company or rebranded, you’ll need to make sure that no one else can use your unique business assets. This could be a logo or a marketing slogan, a packaging design or a website banner.

The best way to protect these assets is to secure your intellectual property (IP) rights. You can do this through trademark and copyright protection. But what’s the difference between these two, and which is the right choice for you?

We’ll cover everything you need to know about trademark vs. copyright in this handy guide. This will help you protect your business branding and assets here in the UK, but you’ll need to look into registering trademarks abroad if you want to extend your IP rights abroad.

When doing this, make sure you use a Wise multi-currency account to save money on international registration fees - more on this later.

What is a copyright?

Copyright protection gives your business protection for its original work, concepts and ideas. It stops other people and companies from using, selling, reproducing or trading off things like your unique company logo, for example.

When you create something, you can instantly copyright it using the © symbol. All you have to do is apply it or incorporate it in the design. You can also add the year the work was created and your company name. There’s no need to register, pay any fees or apply, and there isn’t a register of copyrighted works in the UK.

The © copyright symbol meaning is universally understood here in the UK, so it’s clear to all other businesses and customers that you have the exclusive rights to the work. You can sell or assign the copyright to someone else if you like, but no one can use the work without your permission.

If someone does steal your work, having the copyright symbol in place should make it easier for you to take legal action.

In most countries copyright can last for 50 years for most types of written, dramatic and artistic works, and at least 25 years for photographs but can also differ for other types of work¹.

What is a trademark?

Now, onto trademarks. A trademark is designed to protect something specific, such as the brand name, logo, slogan or anything else that marks your business out from its competitors.

You’ll need to apply to register a trademark with the UK Intellectual Property Office (UKIPO) and pay a fee. The process takes quite a while (around four months)² but if your application is successful, your trademark will go onto the official trademarks database.

This gives you robust legal protection if someone tries to use or reproduce your branding without permission. For example, to sell counterfeit goods. You can take legal action against anyone who does use your registered trademark, and also sell or licence your brand if you want to.

Once you’re all registered, you’ll be able to show the world that your brand is trademarked by using the official symbol ®. While you’re waiting for approval to come through, you can use the symbol ™. Trademark registration lasts for 10 years², after this time you’ll need to apply to renew it.

Some of the most famous trademark examples include the Olympic Rings logo, the McDonald’s ‘I’m lovin’ it’ slogan and the Nike ‘swoosh’ tick logo. You can even trademark a pattern, such as the famous Burberry check.

Key differences between trademark and copyright

Not sure which form of intellectual property (IP) protection to use for your business? Here’s a handy at-a-glance guide to help you understand the key differences between trademark and copyright:

  1. Copyright protection is applied instantly simply by adding the © symbol, but trademarks need to be officially registered.

  2. It’s free to copyright your business assets, but the fees to register a trademark with the UK Intellectual Property Office (UKIPO) start from £270².

  3. Copyright protection lasts for 70 years after the death of the work’s creator, trademarks must be renewed every 10 years.

  4. You don’t need to actually use copyrighted works for them to remain protected, but registered trademarks must remain in active use.

  5. Copyright protects your unique work from being used without your permission, while trademarks protect specific elements of your business (i.e. your logo) which identify your brand or products.

  6. Copyright protection is automatically extended to all countries that are part of the Berne Convention¹, but trademarks only offer IP protection in the UK.

Registering trademarks internationally? Use Wise to save on registration fees in other currencies

If you’ve sorted intellectual property protection in the UK, you might start to think about how you can protect key business assets further afield. After all, a trademark in the UK may not stop a company or individual in another country from using your brand without permission.

This may involve registering for international trademarks, a process that is likely to involve registration fees in lots of different currencies.

Before you do anything, sign up for a Wise multi-currency account. This can help you send money worldwide for low, transparent fees and the real, mid-market exchange rate. If you’re a business operating in multiple countries and making a lot of international transactions, this could save you a bundle in bank fees and terrible exchange rates.

Start saving today with Wise


So, that’s all the essentials on trademark vs. copyright covered. We’ve covered the key differences between the two, including how to use each and how long intellectual property protection lasts in each case.

It’s up to you which you use to protect your business branding and other assets. However, it could be a smart idea to go for both, just to make sure you’re fully covered. Good luck!


Sources used for this article:

  1. gov.uk article - Copyright
  2. gov.uk article - registering a trademark

Sources checked on 22th April 2021


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