How can I find out if a phrase has been copyrighted? 4 Answers as of December 02, 2010

I am interested in copyrighting a phrase that is used to brand and market my small business. How can I find out if a phrase has been copyrighted and how do I go about copyrighting it myself? Do I have to perform a patent search for trademarks too?

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Mark S. Hubert PC
Mark S. Hubert PC | Mark Hubert
Go to uspto.gov and perform a trademark search. It is quite intuitive. Copyrights are not applicable here.
Answer Applies to: Oregon
Replied: 12/2/2010
Fish & Associates, PC
Fish & Associates, PC | Robert D. Fish
A phrase can be protected under copyright law (depending on length and originality) and/or under trademark law (if the phrase is not confusingly similar to that used by others, and the phrase is capable of distinguishing the source or origin of the goods or services involved). One cannot protect a phrase per se under patent law.

Searching copyrights is notoriously difficult because the copyright office only knows of registered copyrights and applications, and there is no requirement for a copyright holder to register his/her copyright. In addition, the copyright office does a terrible job of indexing and providing access to copyright materials. You can try to search copyrights yourself for free at http://www.copyright.gov/records/, but if you are serious about searching, you should pay the copyright office to run the search.

Searching trademarks is somewhat easier, but again you can never have a complete search because the trademark office only keeps track of registered trademarks and applications. As in copyrights, there is no requirement that a trademark owner ever register his/her trademark. You can do a minimal search yourself for free at the patent and trademark office, www.uspto.gov, but for a better search should you should go to an attorney. Cost for a medium level search is about $500.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 12/2/2010
Handal & Morofsky LLC
Handal & Morofsky LLC | Anthony H. Handal
The better course of action here is to consider filing a trademark application on the phrase, which is protectable as a slogan. The government charges a filing fee of approximately $335. The United States Patent and Trademark Office will permit you to file this document on your own, but you may create problems for yourself in the future, so it is probably better to hire an attorney. The average attorney fee for doing the filing was reported as $769 in 2006.
Answer Applies to: New York
Replied: 12/1/2010
Ochoa and Associates
Ochoa and Associates | Susan Ochoa Spiering
Phrases are not usually copyrighted, but to check go to the US Copyright Office website, and run a search on the phrase you are interested in. Then go to the US Trademark Office (www.uspto.gov) and search trademarks with the phrase you are interested in. The patent and trademark office has a frequently asked question section that can answer a lot of questions, including how to file questions.
Answer Applies to: Texas
Replied: 12/1/2010
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