For businesses based in Chicago, it’s vital to understand the difference between copyright and trademark law. While at first glance the two may seem similar, in reality, the implications of misusing either can be costly and time-consuming. Before you make any decisions about trademarks and copyrights for your business, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the basic differences between the two, the legal conditions each requires, and the strategies you can employ to ensure you’re in compliance. Below are the top five things to consider when comparing copyright and trademark in Chicago.

To start, it’s important to understand that copyright and trademark law are both governed by federal statute. Copyright law protects creative works such as books, music, and artwork. Trademark law, on the other hand, is used to protect symbols, names, or slogans that identify particular products or services. In contrast to protected works, trademarks that have been established in commerce are given distinct legal standing under trademark law.

The second major difference between copyright and trademark law is that copyrights must be registered with the United States Copyright Office (USCO) in order to be legally enforceable. While copyrights can be enforced on a state level, it is absolutely essential to secure your copyrights with the USCO if you wish to protect your works from piracy and infringement. The process of registering with the USCO is simple and only requires a minimal fee.

Conversely, trademarks need not be registered with the USCO in order to be enforceable. Trademarks can be established in the marketplace over time and do not require a formality similar to the USCO registration. However, in order to receive the most protection, businesses are encouraged to secure their trademarks with the USCO as well as with their respective state registration offices.

Another major difference between copyright and trademark law is how each is applied to distinct mediums. While copyrights as a form of intellectual property are applicable to both tangible and intangible works equally, trademark more frequently applies to tangible works. This means that trademarks are particularly applicable to items such as logos and symbols which can be easily attached to physical products or services. Copyright, on the other hand, is more applicable to intangible works such as books, music, and artwork.

The fourth distinction between the two legal concepts is the potential duration of protection. Copyrights typically are valid until 70 years after the creator’s death, while trademarks can remain commercially viable without formal renewal for as long as the associated product or service remains in production. For businesses that are looking to establish long-term protection for a brand, trademark registration may be the best route.

Finally, one of the most important distinctions to be aware of is the enforcement level and processes associated with each. Copyrights are enforced mainly on a state-by-state basis, meaning the legal process does not typically take long but could get expensive depending on the jurisdiction. Trademarks, on the other hand, are enforced mainly on a federal level, wherein penalty awards can be much larger and more often than not do not require specific state registration.

By understanding the full scope of copyright and trademark laws in Chicago, businesses can make sure that they are registered and executing their content protection plans with maximum efficiency. Additionally, the best piece of advice for businesses in Chicago is to consult a legal professional who is experienced in both copyright and trademark regulation. With the help of a knowledgeable attorney, businesses can receive the full benefit of protection that both concepts offer while avoiding potential legal issues down the road.