If Chinese company ABC has an established brand for their product, "The Widget", and American company XYZ makes an add-on or modification for that product and sells said add-on as "The Widget Improver", with or without reference to ABC, is there copyright implications?

I felt XYZ was enhancing and benefiting ABC, but someone today suggested I may have a problem as the name insinuates "The Widget" is inferior as-is, and also copyright infringement since "The Widget" is in XYZ's product name and, specifically, because XYZ's product specifically functions due to the "The Widget" being in the marketplace.

I could use specific names and examples but I wasn't sure what is expected on this site.

I found this article, which sort of addresses my question and suggests that a license agreement is necessary. But is it really necessary, or only necessary from ABC's (and that author's) point of view?

  • This question doesn't seem to have anything to do with copyright, which is used to protect artistic expression. You probably want to ask about trademark law, which is morerelevant to this situation.
    – chapka
    Jul 19, 2015 at 14:50
  • Part of me wants to say, "pot-AY-to, pot-AH-to"... but you're right that I did come to a Law discussion and in the legal world, these things matter. I don't really understand the difference. The person who suggested to me that I may have a problem used the term "copyright" and he's an intelligent person so I went with it. If you say it is trademark, then replace "copyright" with "trademark" and feel free to answer :)
    – bcsteeve
    Jul 19, 2015 at 22:05
  • I was going to answer the question, but then I realized you left this out: are you asking about how intellectual property law would govern this situation in the United States or China? Or both? Jul 30, 2015 at 4:15
  • Also, the difference between copyright and trademark is that the former aims to protect the rights of artists, authors, and other creators to profit off of their works. The latter aims to protect brand identities. Copyright was originally intended to encourage creators to create new works; trademark law was originally intended to protect the public by ensuring they know what they're getting when they purchase a product. Jul 30, 2015 at 4:18
  • Thanks for the distriction. Trademark it is, not copyright. I am in the USA seling a product that improves upon, and depends on, a product made in China by a Chinese company. I sell my product worldwide but rarely (if ever) to China. Most of my customers are in the USA. I wouldn't think I would have to consider China's laws at all. Keep in mind this is all small time stuff. I am not Belkin and they are not Apple... but it is that sort of idea.
    – bcsteeve
    Jul 30, 2015 at 15:21

1 Answer 1


You generally can't protect a product name by copyright in the US (which is the jurisdiction that matters for the American company, assuming they're selling their product in the US). See Copyright Protection Not Available for Names, Titles, or Short Phrases (by the United States Copyright Office):

Copyright law does not protect names, titles, or short phrases or expressions. Even if a name, title, or short phrase is novel or distinctive or lends itself to a play on words, it cannot be protected by copyright


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