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I’ve been reacquainting myself with copyright and trademark law recently. While I knew that the creator of a body of work automatically and instantly owned the copyright without having to register it, I didn’t know there are limitations on what can be copyrighted. Expressing ideas in all ways, ranging from drawing pictures to writing text or computer code, falls in the realm of copyrightable material. What is *not* copyrightable are the ideas themselves. Inventions and processes can be patented, but not copyrighted. And, fortunately for everyone, ideas cannot be patented, either. Can you imagine if you had to pay a fee every time you thought of a pink elephant? We’d all end up bankrupt. (You’re thinking of a pink elephant right now, aren’t you? That’ll be one dollar, please.)
Trademarks and, the little known, servicemarks differentiate one company’s product or service from another. They allow us, as consumers, to distinguish between pink elephant kibbles on the market, however, they don’t prevent competition between manufacturers. Trademarks, like copyright, don’t have to be registered, but, obtaining a Federal trademark registration has several advantages, such as having exclusive use of the trademark nation-wide. Once the trademark has been registered, it is solely the responsibility of the trademark owner to ensure infringement of the mark is kept at bay. If exclusive use of the trademark is not constantly policed by the trademark owner, the owner will forfeit the exclusive use of the trademark. In other words, use it, but make sure others don’t use it, or lose it. Sounds like a lot of things in life, doesn’t it?
For complete information about copyright, check the US Copyright Office website. The US Patent and Trademark Office provides complete information on trademarks and patents, as well. Of course, if reading the extensive amount of information on the topics and trying to decide how it relates to your situation has you seeing pink elephants, I suggest you consult a legal expert in the matter.