Trademark vs. Copyright: Key Differences for UK Businesses

In the dynamic world of business, particularly in the United Kingdom, understanding the nuances of intellectual property rights is crucial. Two of the most significant forms of intellectual property are trademarks and copyrights. While both offer protection to creators and businesses, they serve different purposes and are governed by different rules. This article delves into the key differences between trademarks and copyrights, focusing on their importance for UK businesses.

Understanding Intellectual Property

Intellectual property (IP) refers to creations of the mind, such as inventions, literary and artistic works, designs, symbols, names, and images used in commerce. IP rights allow creators or owners to protect their creations, ensuring they can control and benefit from their use. In the UK, IP is primarily governed by the Intellectual Property Office (IPO).

What is a Trademark?

A trademark is a sign capable of distinguishing the goods or services of one enterprise from those of other enterprises. Trademarks can be words, logos, colors, sounds, or a combination of these. They are essential for businesses as they help establish brand identity and ensure that consumers can distinguish their products from those of competitors.

Registration and Duration

In the UK, trademarks are registered with the IPO. The registration process involves several steps, including a thorough search to ensure no similar trademarks exist, filing an application, and undergoing a review process. Once registered, a trademark is protected for ten years and can be renewed indefinitely every ten years, provided the renewal fees are paid.

Types of Trademarks

  1. Word Marks: These consist of words, letters, or numerals. Examples include “Coca-Cola” and “Nike”.
  2. Figurative Marks: These include logos or symbols without words. For example, the Apple logo.
  3. Combined Marks: These incorporate both words and symbols, like the McDonald’s logo.
  4. Color Marks: Specific colors associated with a brand, such as Cadbury’s purple.
  5. Sound Marks: Sounds that are distinctive to a brand, like the Intel chime.

What is Copyright?

Copyright is a legal right that grants the creator of original works exclusive rights to their use and distribution. These works include literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, as well as film, sound recordings, broadcasts, and typographical arrangements of published editions.

Scope and Duration

In the UK, copyright protection is automatic upon creation, provided the work is original and fixed in a tangible form. There is no need for registration. The duration of copyright varies depending on the type of work:

  • Literary, Dramatic, Musical, and Artistic Works: Life of the author plus 70 years.
  • Films: 70 years from the death of the last principal director, screenwriter, or composer.
  • Sound Recordings: 70 years from the end of the year in which it was made or released.
  • Broadcasts: 50 years from the end of the year of broadcast.
  • Typographical Arrangements: 25 years from the end of the year of publication.

Types of Works Protected

  1. Literary Works: Books, articles, computer programs.
  2. Dramatic Works: Plays, choreography.
  3. Musical Works: Songs, symphonies.
  4. Artistic Works: Paintings, sculptures, photographs.
  5. Films: Motion pictures, videos.
  6. Sound Recordings: CDs, vinyl records, digital files.
  7. Broadcasts: Television and radio broadcasts.
  8. Typographical Arrangements: Layouts of published works.

Key Differences Between Trademarks and Copyrights

Purpose and Scope

  • Trademarks: Primarily serve to protect brand identity and ensure consumers can distinguish between different goods and services. They are crucial for businesses looking to build and maintain their brand image.
  • Copyrights: Aim to protect the rights of creators over their original works, allowing them to control and benefit from their use. This protection extends to a wide range of creative works.

Registration and Formalities

  • Trademarks: Require registration with the IPO to obtain protection. This process involves a formal application, search, and examination.
  • Copyrights: Protection is automatic upon creation and fixation in a tangible form. No formal registration is required, although creators can voluntarily register their works with organisations like the Copyright Service for additional proof of ownership.

Duration of Protection

  • Trademarks: Initially protected for ten years, with the possibility of indefinite renewals every ten years.
  • Copyrights: Duration varies by type of work but generally lasts for the life of the author plus a specific number of years (e.g., life plus 70 years for literary works).

Types of Protected Works

  • Trademarks: Protect signs that distinguish goods or services, such as logos, words, and colors.
  • Copyrights: Protect a broad range of creative works, including literature, music, art, and film.

Enforcement and Infringement

  • Trademarks: Infringement occurs when an unauthorised party uses a sign identical or similar to a registered trademark for similar goods or services, leading to confusion among consumers. Enforcement involves civil actions, including injunctions and damages.
  • Copyrights: Infringement happens when an unauthorised party uses, reproduces, distributes, or performs a copyrighted work without permission. Enforcement can involve civil and criminal actions, including injunctions, damages, and, in severe cases, imprisonment.

Importance for UK Businesses

Understanding and utilising both trademarks and copyrights can provide significant benefits to UK businesses.

Brand Protection and Recognition

A strong trademark can help a business establish a unique identity in the market, making it easier for customers to recognise and trust its products or services. This recognition can lead to increased customer loyalty and higher market value.

Protecting Creative Works

For businesses involved in creative industries, such as publishing, music, film, or software development, copyright protection is essential. It ensures that the creators can control how their works are used and receive appropriate compensation.

Legal Recourse

Both trademarks and copyrights provide businesses with legal recourse against infringement. This protection helps prevent unauthorised use of a business’s brand or creative works, safeguarding its reputation and financial interests.

Economic Value

Intellectual property can be a valuable asset for businesses. Trademarks and copyrights can be licensed or sold, generating additional revenue streams. They can also increase the overall value of a business, making it more attractive to investors.

How to Leverage Trademarks and Copyrights

Conducting IP Audits

Regular IP audits can help businesses identify their intellectual property assets and ensure they are adequately protected. This involves reviewing all trademarks, copyrights, and other IP assets, ensuring they are registered, and monitoring for potential infringements.

Strategic Use of Trademarks

Businesses should carefully select and register trademarks that effectively represent their brand identity. This includes conducting thorough searches to avoid conflicts and ensuring that trademarks are distinctive and memorable.

Protecting Copyrights

Creators should ensure their works are adequately documented and, where necessary, registered with relevant authorities. They should also use appropriate copyright notices and consider licensing agreements to control how their works are used by others.

Monitoring and Enforcement

Businesses must actively monitor the market for potential infringements of their trademarks and copyrights. Prompt action should be taken against any unauthorised use, including issuing cease-and-desist letters or pursuing legal action if necessary.


In the UK, trademarks and copyrights are powerful tools for protecting intellectual property. While they serve different purposes and are governed by different rules, both are essential for businesses looking to safeguard their brand identity and creative works. By understanding the key differences between trademarks and copyrights, UK businesses can effectively leverage these protections to enhance their competitive advantage, ensure legal recourse against infringements, and maximise the economic value of their intellectual property. Regular IP audits, strategic registration, vigilant monitoring, and proactive enforcement are all critical steps in making the most of these valuable assets.

*Disclaimer: This website copy is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. For legal advice, book an initial consultation with our commercial solicitors HERE.

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