How Copyrights and Trademark Registration Apply to Technology Startups




We’ve discussed the essence of copyrights and trademark protection in previous posts (Copyrights vs. Trademarks Part One and Part Two). But entrepreneurs aren’t looking for a 101 in intellectual property protection law, they are concerned with goals such as protection of unique attributes of their business, and protection of market position. The key question is how do copyrights and trademark protection and registration protect technology startups?

Copyright Protection of Technology Startups

The purpose of copyright protection is to grant exclusive rights to the original attributes of a mobile application’s user-interface (UX) and software code. Legal protection of copyright of software code, algorithms, and the UX or user-flow of a mobile application in most cases requires valid, legally binding contracts with employees, contractors or co-founders. Issues such as rights clearance, copyright assignments, warranties, licensing agreements, and work for hire contracts are typically implicated in the legal due diligence required to secure copyright ownership of technology startups such as mobile applications, software codes, and websites.

Trademark Protection of Technology Startups

Trademarks, on the other hand, do not reward originality per se, trademarks are based on commercial use and distinctiveness, as in, the ability to identify the source of a product, such as


A lower case ‘f’ in blue tones:


The letters ESPN for a sports branded website:

espn logo


A silhouette of a man on a horse swinging a mallet for men’s clothing:

polo logo

Your favorite brand of coffee:

starbucks logo


Any word, phrase or design (usually a logo) that meets trademark requirements can have trademark rights vest with the first user. Once trademark protection attaches it lasts forever provided the mark is used in commerce. For tech startups, trademark due diligence is the touchstone of branding strategy, what to call the app, and what is the commercial impression it conveys. Legal due diligence in the form of a search, trademark clearance, and analysis of results by an experienced trademark attorney is critical to understanding the trademarkability of a selected name or brand, a selected commercial impression, a branding persona that can distinguish the mark in a crowded field.

Understanding the scope of protection of different forms of intellectual property– everything from copyrights, trademarks, patents, to trade secrets can be intellectually stimulating (Trust me, I do it for a living). While intellectual property law is a sexy topic to some, technology startup entrepreneurs, CEOs of mobile application companies, marketing teams at software innovation firms, and niche social media platforms are more interested in how it applies to capturing and securing market share.  What is most important to tech startup founders is not the definitions of the terms copyright and trademark, but what legal protection strategies they should pursue. The question that most need answered is, “What legal due diligence steps, involving contracts and federal copyright and trademark registrations, will secure the broadest exclusive rights to solely monetize the unique features, the unique selling propositions, and/or unique commercial impression for my product?”

Screen Shot 2014-09-21 at 11.16.38 PMAuthor: David N. Sharifi, Esq. is a Los Angeles based intellectual property attorney and technology startup consultant with focuses in entertainment law, emerging technologies, trademark protection, and “the internet of things”. David was recognized as one of the Top 30 Most Influential Attorneys in Digital Media and E-Commerce Law by the Los Angeles Business Journal in 2014. Office: Ph: 310-751-0181;

Disclaimer: The content above is a discussion of legal issues and general information; it does not constitute legal advice and should not be used as such without seeking professional legal counsel. Reading the content above does not create an attorney-client relationship. All trademarks are the property of L.A. Tech & Media Law Firm or their respective owners. Copyright 2015. All rights reserved. 

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