Is a Phrase Copyrighted or Trademarked?

Is a phrase copyrighted or trademarked? Usually, a phrase would be protected by a trademark, as copyrights are for more lengthy, creative works.3 min read

How Are Copyrights and Trademarks Used?

Copyrights and trademarks are types of intellectual property protection. The laws surrounding these protections encourage creativity and reward original thinking. Copyrights are generally used to protect works like:

  • Books.
  • Films.
  • Plays.
  • Essays.

Trademarks are usually registered to protect catch phrases and terms. This type of IP (intellectual property) protection is mostly used in marketing. When companies want to be known by their particular name or symbol for their product, they will typically trademark it to prevent others from using it.

Think of the Pepsi symbol. Pepsi has become such a popular brand that, when consumers see that symbol, assume Pepsi created the product. If that symbol wasn't trademarked, a different soda company could put the Pepsi logo on their products in order to sell more, essentially stealing the reputation Pepsi has built and misrepresented the brand.

The three main types of IP protection are:

  • Copyrights - original literary and artistic works.
  • Trademarks - original phrases, logos, brand names, etc.
  • Patents - an invented product or process.

How Are Copyrights and Trademarks Registered?

If you're looking to register a copyright or trademark, you can do so with the State through the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Registration of copyrights and trademarks is not required in order to enforce your ownership over a particular work or phrase, but it helps. When a work is protected through the USPTO and registered, it makes it easy for the court to determine rightful ownership. Technically, anytime an original work is created, it's protected, but the registration makes that protection stronger.

You can search for copyrights and trademarks by visiting these online databases and typing in the work or phrase you're looking into:

These databases will allow you to look at either current or expired results, so you can see if your name or work will infringe on a currently protected piece of intellectual property or if it has been protected in the past. When choosing business names or marketing slogans, it's good to avoid anything that was previously used so potential customers aren't confused.

Should I Copyright or Trademark a Phrase?

Trademark protection applies to any of the following:

  • Words.
  • Names.
  • Slogans.
  • Designs.
  • Symbols.

When such creations represent a certain product in commerce, they are automatically trademarked, but it is still better to officially register them. Marketplace identification is vital to successful marketing, and IP protection upholds the distinguishing characteristics between various creations.

Sometimes trademarks lead to a more solid reputation for a company. Think of the expensive designers or brands you know for clothing. There are certain symbols that suggest a level of quality to the buyer because they are associated with the company that makes the product or process. A phrase should be trademarked, not copyrighted.