Business Logos, Slogans and Copyrighting

Your business has a great name, logo and slogan to stimulate brand recognition. Are those creations copyrightable?

One of the most common questions an intellectual lawyer gets asked relates to copyrighting a brand name, title or a logo. Is it possible to copyright those creations? The short answer is no, and in fact, brand names, short phrases, business names and slogans are explicitly excluded from protection; something that usually comes as a significant disappointment to businesses hoping to protect their identities.

The exclusion is actually quite wide and is applicable to any kind of a title, short ad expression, catch-phrase or name. Let’s say your forte was collecting and writing about recipes the great chefs of the world made famous. There are a lot of people who would copy those recipes and give them a whirl. Isn’t that a copyright violation? In the instance of labels, formulas, recipes and ingredient lists, the answer is they are not protected by copyright. However, the text with the directions, explanations and other descriptions may be eligible for copyright. Tread cautiously.

What about a person who wants to use a name in business/commerce? This is different. Business names, brand names and even slogans may be protected. Trademark law says those things are protected if and when they are used in commerce to make a product stand out from someone else’s. Just to throw a spanner into the works, trademark law also says you have exclusive rights to a trademark if you are the first user (under certain conditions). You would need to speak to an intellectual property lawyer about this to find out how it may apply to your circumstances.

In general, there is some trademark protection available automatically if you use your marks in commerce/business. But you still need to register a trademark federally in order to be covered nationwide.

Just to backtrack a bit, that bestselling cookbook about the world’s greatest chefs has recipes and formulas in it, and they aren’t protected by copyright or trademark law. If you want to protect them, you either have to consider that they are trade secrets, or patent them. To that end, you can only patent a recipe or formula if it is new and not just a combo of things already in existence. Drug makers pull that kind of stunt all the time by combining two existing drugs into one and calling it a new drug.

What about the recipe for Pepsi or Dr. Pepper? While these two drinks are recipes, their origin is a formula and is therefore a trade secret. That means they’re protected indefinitely just so long as no one exposes them. A patent would grant up to 20 years protection. If you don’t know if your product or other good may be copyrightable or qualify for a patent, ask an intellectual property attorney. Finding out now saves potential litigation grief later.

Anthony Spotora is a Los Angeles business attorney, intellectual property and entertainment lawyer.  To learn more, visit

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This entry was posted on Thursday, September 30th, 2010 at 6:00 pm and is filed under Business & Corporate Law, Entertainment Law, Intellectual Property. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

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