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Legal aspects of logo design that startups should pay attention to

Editor’s Note: This guest post has been created in collaboration and with financial support from the creators of the online trademark application tool Reggster.com. If you’re also interested in partnering with us, just reach out.

Most companies, and of course also startups, have and use logos. People are highly visual and often remember images better than words. Logos can also really bring names to life and invoke emotions words alone cannot. Logos can be so powerful that seeing just a small part of them is often enough to recognise them.

When you design a logo (or rather, have one designed for you), you should also make sure that it is protectable as a trademark. You don’t want to spend money on a logo that cannot be protected. If your logo is worth spending money on, it should be worth protecting.

How to make a protectable logo?

Counterintuitively, the key consideration is the distinctiveness of any ​word elements ​ in the logo. Here are some simple examples. So before jumping into graphical considerations, you need to determine whether the logo contains distinctive words. Here are some examples.examples

If the name is distinctive, you can be very flexible with logo design. You can go for an ultra sleek and minimalistic logo. On the contrary, if the name contains only descriptive elements, there are additional considerations you need to take into account. The protectability of such logos depend entirely on the design.

Descriptive names require distinctive graphical elements to be protectable as trademarks.​ This is why design is a key element. Here are some ways to improve the protectability of your logo:

  • Use graphical elements that do not relate to the product or service in question. For example, TripAdvisor’s logo has an owl in it. On the contrary, a mountain would be a descriptive graphical element in relation to an outdoor clothing brand.
  • If the graphical elements relate to the product or service or its qualities, don’t make them realistic real life or common portrayals. For example, Burger King’s logo has a burger, but it is designed in a very distinctive way and can thus be protected. Make sure the graphical element is clearly out of the ordinary or the logo cannot get trademark protection.
  • Use colours that are not typical in the industry. If you’re designing a logo for a recycling company, don’t make it green. Use a color that is distinctive for the industry (e.g. pink or orange).
  • Avoid minimalistic logos. A sleek font won’t make the logo protectable. If you make a logo that combines a descriptive name with only a sleek font, there’s nothing that can be legally protected..
  • Use acronyms (that do not have a well-known, common meaning in your industry) in the logo. United Parcel Service is descriptive, but UPS is distinctive and protectable (even as a word).

What about copyright, doesn’t that protect logos?

It depends. The logo must satisfy the originality requirement, but the threshold of what is sufficiently original varies from country to country. The simpler and sleeker the logo is, the more likely it is that it will not cross the threshold of getting copyright protection.
Also, copyright protects against copying. It does not protect against somebody using a similar logo. Trademarks have a much wider scope, they can prevent logos that are “confusingly similar”. So even if your logo is protected by copyright laws, the protection is very narrow. In most cases problems arise from somebody using a similar logo. It is not likely that somebody would use the exactly same logo as you. Remember that the primary legal protection for commercial symbols and identifiers is trademark registration, not copyright. Moreover, there is a high legal uncertainty relating to copyright protection, as the protectability of the logo would only be established afterwards in the infringement proceedings before court. Therefore, it is much easier to rely on a registered trademark when dealing with potential conflicts.

Lastly, whenever you design logo (this applies to marketing material as well), remember to have all intellectual property, including copyright, transferred to your company explicitly and in writing. The copyright that is transferred to you should also include the right to make unlimited amendments and to sell it to another party. The designer should, at minimum, also guarantee that the design is his own creation. With these couple of tips, good luck for your logo design!

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This guest post has been created in collaboration and with financial support from a Sponsor.

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