Found this fascinating and informative article that explains copyrights and trademarks for interior designers and inventors. It explains what’s required and terms that you’d get from a lawyer, since it’s written by two, Paul Makovsky and Martin C. Pedersen. Take a look, and follow link for entire article.
On the Advice of Counsel
Two leading copyright attorneys review some of our favorite products from ICFF, offering designers tips on how best to protect their work.
Ikebana photo from article
For many designers, the idea of legally protecting their work is daunting. But it shouldn’t be: though knockoffs are shamefully rampant in the furniture industry, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) affords a whole host of weapons for legal protection. “The problem we always have is that designers think copyrighting and trademarking is scary,” says George Gottlieb, a founding partner at Gottlieb, Rackman & Reisman, a New York firm specializing in intellectual property law. “They don’t even want to talk to a lawyer. But we can look at a product and in fifteen or twenty minutes give the designer a pretty good picture of what is protectable.”
So how can designers protect themselves? It’s not as complicated or even as expensive as one might suppose. “Our policy is not to charge for the initial consultation,” Gottlieb says. “We charge for the trademark or design or utility patents. On the copyright, we tell them, ‘We’ll do the first one with you, and the rest you should do yourself.’”
We asked Gottlieb and one of his younger partners, Marc Misthal, to walk us through the basics of copyrighting, trademarking, and patenting. We picked five of our favorite products from last spring’s International Contemporary Furniture Fair and had the lawyers analyze them as hypothetical case studies. (Their comments were based only on the short descriptions and photos we supplied.) A glossary of legal terms serves as a mini primer; for additional information, designers can request a free copy of the firm’s booklet, An Introduction to Intellectual Property Protection in Fashion, by calling (212) 684-3900.
Glossary of Legal Terms
These are the five basic categories of copyright protection, listed in order from the least expensive and difficult to the most. Note: trade dress does not apply to any of the products we reviewed, but we list it because it’s an important legal concept.
Copyright protects the “artistic” aspects of a product but not its functional elements. It can protect, for example, fabric prints, jewelry, some furniture, some product packaging, Web sites, textiles, designs or images on the surface of shoes and other accessories, software, and photographs. It does not protect ideas. Instead, it protects the manner in which an idea is expressed. A valid copyright is good for the life of the creator plus 75 years.
Trademarks can include words, slogans, logos, and designs. They enable customers to distinguish between goods or products of different companies
in the marketplace. As long as they remain in use, trademarks are good forever.
Design patents protect the “ornamental” design of any product or component of a product so long as the design satisfies three basic requirements: (1) the design must be “new”; (2) the design must be “nonobvious” compared to prior known designs in the marketplace or in prior patents; and (3) the design must be ornamental and not solely functional. Design patents remain in effect for 14 years.
Utility patents protect the functional or utilitarian aspects of a new product or method that is nonobvious. This patent will protect only the nonobvious differences between the invention and prior inventions. Trivial differences between a new product design and the prior art are not patentable. Chemical processes can also be protected. Utility patents are good for 20 years from the
date of filing.
Trade dress is the “look” of an article or its packaging. The blue Tiffany box and Coca-Cola’s bottle are notable examples. Trade dress does not protect functional elements. It is the most difficult form of protection to obtain. This is why we didn’t address it in relation to the products that follow. If any of those items become well enough known in the future, they might be eligible for trade-dress protection and might even become registered trademarks.
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