Copyright vs. Trademark
A trademark offers protection somewhat similar to a copyright. A copyright helps protect a thought or an idea, while a trademark protects more business specific aspects such as names, titles, symbols, or tag lines that a business regularly uses. A trademark is anything that separates a business from competitors in the market.
To quote directly from the Supreme Court, the purposes of trademarks are as follows:
"[T]rademark law, by preventing others from copying a source-identifying mark, 'reduce[s] the customer's cost's of shopping and making purchasing decisions,' for it quickly and easily assures a potential customer that the this item--the item with this mark--is made by the same producer as other similarly marked items that he or she liked (or disliked) in the past. At the same time, the law helps assure a producer that it (and not an imitating competitor) will reap the financial, reputation-related rewards associated with a desirable product." Qualitex Co. v. Jacobson Products Co, U.S. Supreme Court (1995).
How They Work
A trademark is not something that is automatically assigned like a copyright. A trademark must be earned by consistent service and presence in the marketplace. Trademarks are protected both under federal and state law, and allow the holder to have exclusive rights to whatever the trademark protects. Trademarks are so strongly protected because customers associate goods and quality of goods with trademarks. Whether it be a motto, or a symbol on a advertisement, customers associate their ideas with these marketing tools. Trademark law work to protect the company that holds the rights from other similar companies coming in and either stealing their trademarks, or using their trademark to sell less quality products or services.
A trademark is something that is earned by a company. There is no need to buy or even register a trademark. Your mark is always protected under state and federal law, as long as you can prove that you used the mark first. However, it can be beneficial to register your trademark since it can give you exclusive nationwide use of the mark. You can register your trademark by visiting the United States Patent and Trademark Office website provided in the additional resources section of this article.