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What's the Difference Between a Trademark and a Brand?

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A trademark protects a form of intellectual property, while a brand is the overall impression of your business. Many people use a trademark to brand a portion of their business, such as their business name, slogan, or logo. However, a trademark is not a brand on its own. Trademarks are a part of the larger brand picture.

Want to know more? Below, we go through the nitty-gritty differences between brands and trademarks.

In this article, we'll cover:

Trademark vs. Brand

A trademark is different from a brand, in part, because a trademark has legal protections in it’s own right, while a brand is a non-legal combination of many things that create a company’s image. Trademarks are useful in building brands, but are just a small portion of what it means to have a brand.

So, in short: a trademark can be part of a brand, but a brand is not a trademark alone.

What is a trademark?

Trademark refers to a word, phrase, design, or combination of the three that a business uses in commerce, such as Nike’s slogan “Just do it” or the iconic Starbucks logo. A trademark can be either a word mark or a design mark or, less commonly, a sound mark. And to earn rights, trademarks can either be registered or not. (More on this later.)

But what other elements make a trademark a trademark?

A trademark is:

Check out our Trademark Service and have our team of experts get the federal registration process started for you.

What is a brand?

Brand refers to a company’s overall image. This is much more than a single graphic or phrase. A brand can include tangible things like a trademark, but it also includes the non-physical: things like how a consumer feels about a product, what kind of vibe the stores give, and the company’s reputation with the public.

Branding your business is crucial to gaining customer loyalty. It can be handled by the business itself, or outsourced to a professional marketing company. But what all is included in a brand?

A brand includes:

  • Registered trademarks
  • Unregistered slogans, graphics, and images
  • Storefront design
  • Website design
  • Content tone
  • Packaging
  • Celebrity endorsements
  • Company culture
  • Reputation
  • Social media presence


Why is it important to know the difference?

It is important to know the difference between a trademark and a brand because they are often used interchangeably when they really shouldn’t be.

If you only have a trademark and put no further effort into your brand, it’s possible your business will struggle to break into markets in a meaningful way. Likewise, if you only focus on branding and have no strong, protectable trademarks, it’s possible that another business will gain protections for trademarks similar to those you’d hoped to eventually register.

By understanding the differences between trademarks and brands—and accounting for those differences when building up your business—you’ll give your company a greater chance of success.

Differences to Keep in Mind

What are the actual consequences of a brand and a trademark being different from each other? Below, we’ll go over the top three ways a trademark and a brand’s differences affect your business operations.

1. Registration

A trademark can be registered, and a brand cannot be registered. Remember, a brand is conceptual where a trademark is actual.

Trademarks are broken into different levels of registration or lack thereof:

  • Common Law. Common law trademarks are not registered in any official capacity, but have protections in the specific area that the mark is being used in.
  • State Registered. Trademarks registered at the state level have protections exclusively within the state the mark is registered in.
  • Federally Registered. Trademarks registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) have nationwide protections. This is the strongest federal trademark protection available, and is often the path that businesses choose when looking to secure their trademark.

Since a brand is more than just the tangible things like a name or logo, there is no real way to legally protect your brand as a whole from being used by another business.

This is why many brands include trademarks. Trademarking ensures that while copy-cat companies can use the playful, honest tone you’ve used to connect with customers on Instagram, they can’t use the identifying elements that tell customers the brand is yours.

2. Scope

A brand has a wider scope than a trademark. Trademark scope is relatively narrow, offering protection in relation to specific goods and services. A brand’s scope, however, includes nearly everything a company does or shares with the public, from Tweets to employee uniforms.

Because of this, a brand has a wider scope both in terms of what it is used for and how far it can go to reach consumers. While a trademark can often give customers a first impression of the business, it is generally limited in how much information it provides.

A brand can reach beyond this speed bump with vibes. Have you ever followed a shop’s Instagram just because you like the content of the shop’s customers? This is a small, everyday way that we can be affected by branding.

3. Purpose

A trademark helps consumers tell brands apart, while a brand’s purpose is to gain consumer loyalty.

A trademark’s purpose is simple: to act as a “source identifier” so that consumers know which company is selling which items. This helps customers easily identify brand from brand, which can help prevent trademark infringement and counterfeit sales. Think of the iconic double G in the logo for Gucci, which had more than 4 million counterfeit product listings online in 2020. Without trademarks, consumers might not know what to look for when determining if a Gucci is a Gucci.

A brand can accomplish a lot of things, but at its core, the purpose is to draw customers back time and time again.

Consider the visceral reaction of your aunt when a restaurant says, “Sorry, we’ve got Pepsi, not Coke,” the way your hand will hover over a different type of dish soap before going back to the tried-and-true Dawn Powerwash, or even the way some people buy all their pants from the same store. These all illustrate a brand’s purpose: to encourage customers to return.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should I get a trademark or a brand first?

Whether you decide to start your trademark application process or focus on your brand first depends on your business’ preferences. It’s a bit of a chicken or egg situation—your trademark is part of your brand, and your brand includes your trademark. So even if you decide to register your trademark first, that’s still a branding choice.

So, yes. Both. Sure.

Does my trademark matter to my brand?

Your trademark absolutely matters to your brand. Since trademarks are typically brand names, logos, and slogans, they’re also often the first thing your consumers see about your brand, and in this case, first impressions definitely matter. Since a brand tries to build customer loyalty, you want your trademark to speak directly to your customers, and make them identify with your brand.

Can I keep my brand legally protected?

Yes and no. Since branding consists of numerous and varied elements, there’s no all-encompassing way to legally protect your brand. This is why many businesses choose to register their trademarks with the USPTO, which offers legal protection over significant parts of your brand, like your logo, brand name, product names, and slogans. For extra protection, you might even consider trademarking your domain name.

What is the difference between a trademark and a trade name?

A trade name or DBA (doing business as) is the name a company goes by publicly, but is not necessarily its legal name. A trademark can include your trade name, but a trade name is not automatically a trademark.

What is the difference between a brand and a brand name?

Similar to a trade name/DBA, a brand name identifies a particular company (or products within a company). A brand includes a brand name, but also includes many other things like your reputation with the public, the ambassadors you choose to market your products, and even employee uniform or website design.

What is the difference between a trademark and a copyright?

While both protect intellectual property, the scope of a trademark and a copyright are different. A trademark helps protect a brand’s identity and helps consumers tell companies/products apart. A copyright protects individual artistic creations, like a painting, poem, novel, or recipe, as long as it is in a tangible (and therefore able to be registered) form.

What is the difference between a trademark and a patent?

Trademarks and patents are both forms of intellectual property. Trademarks are identifiers that help consumers tell brands apart, preventing similar goods/services from being promoted by similar marks. Patents give inventors the exclusive right to make, use, and sell their invention for a set period of time.

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