When Do I Register My Copyright or Trademark?

Many entrepreneurs wonder when they need to register a copyright on their company’s product or a trademark on their company’s name and/or logo. The important thing to remember when considering the right time is that, unlike patents, registration is not a requirement for ownership — an author gains copyright when he or she fixes the work in a tangible medium (which includes in a computer file), and a company gains a trademark when it uses the mark in commerce. If ownership attaches upon creation and use, then what is the point of registration, one may ask. Registration (in this article, referring to registration at the federal level) does provide important benefits, including nationwide protection, access to federal courts and statutory damages, and constructive notice to potential infringers. In addition, some courts have held that registration is a procedural condition to being able to file suit to enforce rights. The costs of registering a trademark is usually a couple thousand dollars; for a copyright, significantly less. But a registered copyright or trademark is worth anything only if the holder is willing and able to defend the the copyright or trademark. Accordingly, it may be time to register a copyright or trademark when it becomes worth defending. This is particularly applicable to trademarks — it makes little sense, when just starting out with a business, to register a trademark when nobody has heard of the company. However, once the company has traction and a brand to speak of, it may be worth the expense to register a trademark. However, it may also be worth registering at an early stage if you anticipate potential infringement.

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