It goes without saying that design is one of the most important aspects of your product. It is what makes it stand out from others that are similar to it, and it is what people are going to like and remember what you are offering. So, there are two logical things that come out of this.
The first is the fact that, as soon as your product starts making a large profit for you, there will always be people who will attempt to steal your design features in any way they can and come up with knockoffs that they can sell for themselves.
Thus, comes the second thing – they need to protect your product design in any way that you can.
In this article, we are going to discuss the ways that you can make sure that what is yours stays yours.
What is copyright?
For starters, when talking about copyright, we are, in fact, discussing intellectual property law. This law exists with the intention to protect any original work that is made, even if it is never presented to the public at all. Anything that is designed, written, drawn, photographed, and the like, automatically makes the creator its copyright owner.
However, you shouldn’t rely on the fact that intellectual property is automatically copyrighted. There are numerous ways that people can try to find a run-around so that they can exploit the nature of your work.
Furthermore, some will even dare to steal it nonetheless, and if you don’t register your work’s copyright, you are going to have a lot more trouble defending it in court.
What you also need to know is that the default copyright does not cover all the aspects of your work. This is particularly related to design, as often, certain aspects aren’t significant to the product’s purpose and use, and therefore do not fall under the copyright law.
A design patent protects more than your product – it protects its design, in case that it is original, new, and ornamental. Basically, the property of ornamentation comes into place instead of the patent’s utility and practicality. This is important to differentiate, as it is not a functional feature of the product.
For example, the design of a mobile phone’s casing is not something that affects its essential purpose – to transmit information.
That is why, when you come up with a creative design that you don’t want anyone else to use, you need a design patent. It has been used for a long time to protect the shapes of computers, cars, and bottles, for example. It enables you to disallow anyone to manufacture a design that looks like or is similar to yours for a period of 14 years.
On the other hand, there is the trademark, which is basically a word, symbol, or design (or a combination of all of them) which identifies you as the creator of a particular product. The trademark that people implement when it comes to their product’s design is most often called a trade dress.
Its main purpose is to discern your design from others and present you as its owner so that no one can create anything similar. What is important here, similarly to design patents, is that the properties and features of the design are not related to its functionality.
As a result, you can protect it with a trade dress and cover everything that is related to it, such as color, graphics, shape, size, and so on.
You can register a trademark if your design is distinctive per se or has gained secondary meaning. Basically, according to the Supreme Court, the innate nature of your product’s design cannot be distinctive on its own unless it gains a whole new meaning.
Until that happens, you can go for a trademark of a “lower-level” of protection, referred to as Supplemental Register.
So, how does a design gain a secondary meaning? It happens when the public begins to recognize the features of your design as your own, and therefore gives them significance.
For example, the design of iMac computers wasn’t something that was connected to Apple as a company right away. But in time, with its super-grown popularity, users have started to associate the shape and the color scheme with the company and the secondary meaning came to life.
Ownership and infringement are covered under federal protection. It gives you a more solid ground in court, and after five years, once it has gained a secondary meaning, you can protect it from anyone who attempts to copy it in a similar fashion.
While copyright covers certain works automatically under the intellectual property law, product design tends to be slippery because it doesn’t relate to your product’s utility and practicality.
This is why you need a design patent, or even better, to register a trademark. In a certain period of time, your ornamental design will gain a secondary meaning and become a feature of your design that you can legally protect from anyone who wants to make something similar.