Understanding Logo Design Trademark
Understanding logo design trademark is just as important as understanding the core design principles. Whereas there are several definition of a trademark, with regards to logo design, a trademark can be defined simply as a symbol or a phrase used as a brand to tell the public about the existences of a source or a manufacturer of a particular product or service. It may feature a name, a device, a word or a combination of all these and it is mainly used to distinguish between designs from one company to another.
Every logo design trademark must be distinctive in the sense that whoever sees it must recognize it as a designation of a source and not just a decoration or a phrase. The strength or the relative distinctiveness of a logo design trademark will determine how much legal protection it will get from other competing similar marks. From the legal perspective, however, the relative strength of a mark might be different from what is perceived by designers or even the ordinary users of the products or services.
Under trademark laws, a trademark that suggests or describes a certain feature of a product or service is considered as a “weak” trademark. For instance, an “apple” may be considered as a weak mark for a business selling apple pies and other food businesses have the legal liberty to use apple without necessarily infringing on the trademark rights of the bakery.
A strong logo design trademark, on the other hand, consists of marks or images or words that do not necessarily suggest the goods or services of a particular company. For example, Apple and the Apple logo for the computer manufacturing giant can be categorized as strong logo design trademarks. The company can thus stop a wide range of businesses from using the same logo design for their products and services.
Logo Design Trademark Ownership
The ownership of a logo design trademark is slightly different from copyrights. It is not the creator of the logo design trademark that owns it. The ownership of the trademark belongs to the company dealing with the particular goods or services on which the logo is displayed. As a designer, therefore, once you create a logo design trademark, you immediately pass all the rights to your clients who will then assume complete ownership the moment they start to use them on their products or services.
Difference between trademarks and copyrights in design
Copyrights offer no protection for words, typographical logos, designs, and typefaces. But many logos may qualify as artwork protected by copyright laws. Technically speaking, when you work as a freelance graphics designer, you own the copyright on such types of works unless you pass them over to the clients.
But as a matter of legal concern, such copyrights are usually of no use to you as a designer. This is simply because such works often act as your client’s first trademarks and you have no permission to re-license them for use by another customer. If you do so, then your second client might be at risk of logo design trademark infringement because their logo is already in use by your previous customer.
Understanding Trademark Infringement
The main base for logo design trademark infringement is “the likelihood of consumer confusion” and it is very different from “substantial similarity” when copyrights are involved. Trademark laws do not take into concern whether or not the artistic impression has been copied. Instead, it protects the functionality of the logo as a brand. It, therefore, implies that if consumers are likely to think that a new trademark logo and the original logo represent the same company, then they will be considered to be confusingly similar and the second logo will be in violation of trademark infringements. Confusing similarity is determined by looking at the trademarks, the respective parties’ goods and services as well as other factors such as the relative sophistication of each of the party’s customers and the strength of the original trademark logo.
How to protect your trademarks
As a graphics designer, you may be faced with situations when you will have to protect your trademarks. This is irrespective of whether you have a company or you are practicing as a unaffiliated designer. The first step towards protecting your logo design trademark is to conduct proper clearance searches to ensure that you won’t be infringing on the rights of another mark. You are free to do the search on your own or engage a lawyer who might also help you out with certain legal components during the process.
The second step in protecting your logo design trademark is to apply for trademark registration. Through the registration, you will have advanced protection for your logo design trademark, including the presumption of exclusive national rights. Once you are done with the registration process, all you have to do to finally protect your logo design trademark is to include a TM symbol in the name or the symbol to show people that you claim the trademark rights.