Written by attorney Bruce E. Burdick

Is there a poor man's trademark like the poor man's copyright?

The "Poor Man's Copyright" is a dangerous myth in the United States, and better name for it would be "Fool's Copyright". Since copyright is automatic under Federal law [17 USC 102] and self-mailing confers no statutory damage rights, it is not only useless, it can really hurt you badly by luring you into not getting right to statutory damages, which is the real key to having a valuable copyright.. Copyright registration is the real "poor man's copyright" [as well as the rich man's copyright]. Since the Government fee is only $35 for a copyright registration, only poor FOOLS don't register. The difference between poor and rich man's copyright is whether you use a lawyer and what caliber of lawyer. You can register on your own and it only costs $35 - many authors and composers do once they have extensive experience. If you do thorough research, you could, too. Paying for a lawyer is a shortcut to that experience and research - in effect you buy the experience. Now, as to trademarks. NO, absolutely not. The way you get trademark rights is to use the trademark in commerce. If the trademark is for a service, it is actually called a servicemark not a trademark. And, like copyrights, trademark rights are automatic, so a poor man's trademark is just using the darn thing as much as you can afford in as much business as you can. Like with copyrights, to get a valuable trademark right, you really need to register it. However, before even adopting a trademark you need to clear it so you don't infringe someone else's trademark. Like a copyright registration, you can do one online if you absolutely, positively cannot afford a trademark attorney, but you will likely get what you pay for - and if you pay nothing you may actually get less than nothing - a lawsuit where you end up losing money, lots of money, enough to bankrupt you. There is no shortcut on trademarks - you need an attorney or you are building your business on legal quicksand. Ever hear the story of the 3 pigs - of course you have - the third pig used a lawyer to build his copyright and trademark of bricks so when the wolf came, the third pig sued the wolf's sorry ass and shut that wolf down. The other two pigs, well one got sued for infringement and the other found he just had an invalid trademark and both had to change and their businesses got eaten by the wolves. Believe you me there are lots of wolves out there in any business. Act accordingly, and don't believe in fairy tales, get that lawyer and don't opt for any of that poor man's stuff or that's what you will likely remain..

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