Copyright vs. trademark: understanding the key differences

Published on
March 20, 2023

The texts and work you produce are automatically copyrighted. But what about the name you give to a product or a creative work? It can be protected by trademark law. But, to protect it you must register the name yourself.

At WUR, new products and techniques are created every day. These could be anything: a teaching method, a harvesting machine, a packaging material, etc. Although these works are automatically protected by copyright law, this isn’t true for the name of these inventions.

Names are protected and can be used exclusively only when registered as a trademark. Unlike copyright, a trademark does not automatically happen. It has to be actively registered.

How to register a trademark?

To get the exclusive right to use a name, you have to register it as a trademark. This can be done at the Benelux Office for Intellectual Property (BOIP) and requires paying an annual fee. Once the name is registered, you as the trademark holder are the only person who can legally use that name.   

Rules regarding trademark

When you register your trademark, keep the following points in mind:

  • No duplicates: Once someone trademarks a term, no one else can trademark the same term for similar use. 
  • Not retroactive: If you register a trademark, that trademark only protects the use of a name or a term from that moment on. Trademarking cannot be used to retroactively prevent the use of that trademark. 
  • No confusion: Even if no trademark has been filed for a term, it is possible to order others to stop using a name that is also used by you, provided this can cause you damage or cause confusion around the name. However, the burden of proof on such an order is high.
  • Country specific: If you plan on internationally using the subject of your trademark, you should register the trademark as such. The BOIP can also register your trademark for you internationally if requested.
  • Protected terms: Some terms and names are protected by default, even without a trademark. For example, the term “university” can be used only by educational institutes that meet the criteria of the WHW for a university. Even then, it only applies to cases where confusion could arise by its use, for example, using it to mislead people into thinking they’re getting a university degree. This wouldn’t apply to a term such as “Children’s University”.


If you have any questions about copyright law, please contact the Copyright Information Point. For trademark or patent specifically, you can contact the Service Desk IP (intranet only).