Branding, Trademarks & Copyright: What’s the Difference?

If you’ve been in business for long enough, you’ve undoubtedly come across terms like branding, trademarks, and copyright. These terms are certainly not equivalent. In fact, confusing them and using them interchangeably can cause you to make significant errors in running your business.

To help you avoid committing these errors, the following guide explains everything you need to know about branding, trademarks, and copyright. We’ll talk about what they are, the difference between the three, how to register trademarks and copyright, and other important questions.

What is a Brand?

Let’s start with the easiest term: brands. A brand is simply your company’s image and is how someone sees and thinks about your company. Brands are intangible concepts, which means that you can’t touch or see them. They tend to be images and symbols, but can also be names, designs, ideas, and other specific features of a company.

A brand helps people identify and create perceptions about your company and is, as a result, often the most valuable asset on your balance sheet. Some marketing experts even argue that the word “personality” is a direct synonym and substitute for the word “brand.”

Here’s a useful thought experiment to help you better understand what a brand is. If your company and/or brand were a person, what attributes would make up its personality? What would its style be? How would it communicate? What would some of its core beliefs and values be? Who would it associate with? The answers to these questions are some of the key factors that constitute a brand.

A common misconception is that a brand name is required to be the same as the company’s registered name. This is not the case, as a brand name has to be able to bring out the key theme of the company’s product in an appealing manner. To put it simply, a company’s registered name distinguishes one company from other companies whereas brand name distinguishes the products of one company from the products of another company. Brand names help customers identify and differentiate the products of parent companies from the others. It is important to have a well-designed logo to make your brand memorable.

What is a Trademark?

A trademark, on the other hand, is a slightly more nuanced concept. While your brand constitutes the reputation of your business, a trademark legally protects the parts of your brand that are unique and specific to your company. This includes slogans, jingles, unique labels, signatures, logos, fictitious characters or mascots, product and brand names, and more. A trademark is a form of intellectual property.

A few common examples of trademarks are the golden arches of McDonald’s, Nike’s swoosh, the Mercedes emblem, and McDonald’s “I’m lovin’ it” slogan.

Trademarks are extremely important because they allow customers to identify your brand out of countless other brands in the market. Moreover, they legally prohibit other people or companies from copying, stealing, or infringing on unique aspects of your brand.

What is the Trademark Registration Process and which Documents do I Need?

Although the registration process is quite elaborate, here’s an overview of it:

  1. First, you have to apply through Form TM4, which you can find at ip2.sg or the IPOS Go mobile app and pay a fee, the fee payable will be dependent on whether you’re applying online or through paper application.
  1. The Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) will review your application. If IPOS approves your application, it will accord a filing date and issue a mark number after 15 days. IPOS will also check if the trademark is eligible to be registered per the Trademark Act and should issue you a verdict within four months.

What is Copyright?

Lastly, we have the concept of copyright. Copyright is an intellectual property right that protects the expression of ideas, such as original literary, musical, dramatic, and artistic works that their authors created at some point in time.

When you own the copyright to a work, you control its use and commercial exploitation for as long as the copyright is valid. Specifically, other people are legally barred from reproducing, publishing, performing, communicating to the public, or adapting your work. That said, you are allowed to sell or license your copyright to another person, group of people, or even a company.  

For example, if you make a video that plays a song in the background that you didn’t create, you have to purchase a license from the artist that produced the song to play it in your video.

What is Copyright Infringement?

If someone who doesn’t own the copyright to a work reproduces, publishes, or sells it, (s)he has engaged in copyright infringement. Copyright infringement is illegal and the copyright holder whose copyright has been violated can sue the offender for damages or any profits that the offender earned as a result of the infringement. To commence legal action against an infringer, a lawsuit can be filed to the Copyright Tribunal. If the dispute concerns a general issue of copyright law, rather than factual issues that are specific to the parties, the Copyright Tribunal has the power to refer the matter to the High Court. However, as lawsuits can be time-consuming and expensive, it is suggested that you explore alternative dispute mechanisms (such as negotiation and mediation) prior to taking legal action.

Copyright Infringement Overseas

The Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works and the World Trade Organisation Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights are examples of international agreements that Singapore is a party to. As Singapore has entered into international agreements with other countries, this allows Singaporean Citizens and Permanent Residents to be given copyright protection for their original works in countries outside of Singapore. To learn more about the membership of the treaties, click here and here.

Legal Use of Copyrighted Works

There are, however, a few cases in which you can legally use copyrighted works without a license or permission. Here are three such examples:

  1. If you use or copy parts of the work for data analysis.
  1. If your use of the work is considered fair dealing. The main factors that determine if someone is using a work for fair dealing is if it’s for commercial and/or financially beneficial reasons, the nature of the work, how much of it he’s using, and the effect on the value of the work (e.g. if the person uses it in a negative political context that the author doesn’t want to be associated with).
  1. Non-profit educational institutions, museums, galleries, libraries, and archives are generally allowed to use works without licenses or permission from the copyright holder. Educational institutions can only use free, online works and it must be solely for educational purposes. For museums, galleries, libraries and archives, they are allowed to copy audio-visual materials that they already have in their collection and want to place on exhibition.

How do I Register Copyright and which Documents do I Need?

In Singapore, your copyright is automatically registered if your work is eligible for copyright protection. Your work qualifies for this protection if it satisfies all of the following requirements. It has to be:

  1. A literary, dramatic, musical, or artistic work, although the quality of the work is irrelevant. A literary work is defined as a written piece of work that has information that can be read, while a dramatic work is one that can be performed and conveys a plot. A musical work is defined as “an arrangement of musical notes” and artistic works refer to paintings, sculptures, drawings, and other works of artistic craftsmanship.
  1. Connected to Singapore in some way, shape, or form. The author has to either be a citizen or resident of Singapore, or the work was first published in Singapore.
  1. Expressed in writing or some other tangible, material form.
  1. Original. A work is considered original if it originated from you, the author. It doesn’t matter if another person produces a similar work independently. For example, two photographers can independently take similar photographs of a beach without knowing that the other person also took the picture. Both works can receive copyright protection while neither photographer would be infringing upon the other’s copyright.

What’s the Difference between Branding, Copyright, and Trademarks?

A good rule of thumb to help you distinguish trademarks from brands is to remember that while all trademarks are brands, not all brands are necessarily trademarks. Furthermore, copyright legally protects an entire body of work like books, songs, movies, poetry, photographs, paintings, and other art. On the other hand, a trademark protects your brand identity, symbols, logos, catchphrases, and other imagery that uniquely represent your goods and services.

Are Brand Names Copyrighted or Trademarked?

Brand names can only be trademarked. Hence, copyrights do not apply to brands. Please refer to the earlier sections on trademarks and the process of trademarking a brand.

When in Doubt, Reach Out!

Even though we’ve extensively covered the fundamental aspects of trademarks, copyright and brands, it’s still important to note that these are complicated legal terms. As a result, we strongly recommend hiring a lawyer that specialises in any or all of these fields to help you navigate these legal matters to ensure that you don’t miss anything. Unsure where to find a reliable professional? Look no further, Sprout can aid this process by referring our clients to our partnered lawyers and trademark professionals.