The question is often asked whether someone can trademark or copyright an idea. The simple answer is “NO” to either intellectual property area. Trademarks are created to protect the name or brand of a product or service, whereas copyrights are created to protect the work (articles, books, lyrics, art, etc) created by its author.

The ultimate trademark name carries a secondary meaning, especially if it’s a logo like the Nike Swoosh — perhaps that meaning stands for quality athletic wear or gear. However, unlike an idea, the product or service being branded must be — or should be within a short period after registration — in commerce. Whereas an idea is just that — a concept in one’s mind that they may turn into reality.

The same holds true in copyright. Imagine a lyricist or an artist who merely needs to state an idea for a sign or a painting, and then seeks protected rights for wither against the entire world. It’s too nebulous to own and protect. However, certain ideas, especially design or mechanical in nature, may find their way to a patent with substantial documentary support.