Intellectual property law help please


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RatFink
July 3, 2004, 10:15 PM
I guess this fits under legal.

I coined a phrase, it was something I was going to use vinyl letters for the back windshield of my truck. It took some thought to get it to sound just how I wanted it to sound. Now I want to get this printed on bumperstickers, and maybe even T-shirts and sell them.

Now my worry is that some big business with more money than me will think this phrase is worth selling also, and suddenly gunshows and websites will be selling them and my silly little attempt to make a few bucks will be pooped on.

How can I stop this from happening? I realize it's just words, but I worked on the wording to make it "Ring", and I think I should be the one to make Ammo cash from it.

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patentnonsense
July 3, 2004, 10:54 PM
Look under "copyright law" at http://www.patents.com - you automatically have some protection against copying of anything you create. However, in practice it can be difficult to track down infringers - it's not the big companies you have to worry about so much as the small shops that you can't catch up with.

Note disclaimer in sig below...

CannibalCrowley
July 3, 2004, 11:30 PM
You would need to patent/trademark the phrase through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, just like Trump did with "You're Fired". This would secure your rights to profit from the use of the phrase for a period of IIRC twenty years.

RatFink
July 3, 2004, 11:31 PM
Thank you, I will look into all of that.

Justin
July 3, 2004, 11:34 PM
I'm not a lawyer.

Generally speaking, copyright applies at the time of creation of a work of art. Getting copyright law to stick to a word or series of words can be harder to do (rightfully so.) If the text you have is a brand name of something, then it's easier to defend it court. Examples of this would be Coke, Pepsi, Ford, Sony, etc.

However, if all you have is a word or phrase it's a lot harder to stick. For instance, a few years ago Sony tried to sue Dimension films for using the title 'Scream' for one of their movies. They claimed copyright infringement because Sony had released a movie a year or so before titled 'Screamers.'

As I recall, Sony got laughed out of court.

This is, generally speaking, a good thing. Otherwise you'd have people going around claiming copyright to frequently-used words and phrases and trying to sue others. (talk about a litigation nightmare!)

Justin
July 3, 2004, 11:39 PM
However, in practice it can be difficult to track down infringers - it's not the big companies you have to worry about so much as the small shops that you can't catch up with. Bill Watterson has learned this exact lesson as a result of all of the fly-by-night idiots that have been manufacturing all of those 'Calvin peeing on X' stickers.

RatFink
July 4, 2004, 12:05 AM
Lets just say it was a phrase like;

"Ted Kennedy's car has killed more people than my gun"

(I think it's a little more clever than that, but this is just an example)

Now yes, those are just a bunch of words that many people use every day, but somebody say down and put that idea together. Is this any different than say somebody writing a poem? Some poems are very short, maybe this is similar.

Hawkmoon
July 4, 2004, 12:49 AM
Copyright is for the protection of creative works of art -- which can include graphic or literary art.

Trademarks are to protect short, easily identifiable images, marks, words or phrases whose value is primarily commercial rather than artistic.

Sounds to me like what you have would fall under the trademark category. Step one is to research with the U.S. Patent Office to ensure that nobody else has registered that trademark. If not, you get to do it. Works of creative art are automatically covered by copyright upon creation, but the copyright must be registered before the owner can sue anyone for violation.

Trademarks are NOT automatically protected. Furthermore, once you use it without protecting it, it is considered to be in the public domain and then you can't register it. So don't start using it until you have applied for the trademark registration. You can use it while the application is pending -- I believe (but be sure to check this) that the "TM" in superscript indicates a trademark with registration pending, while the "R" in a circle indicates a registered trademark.

Josey
July 4, 2004, 01:55 AM
You can't copyright general usage language either. $%^& Happens bumper stickers are an example. Stupid Happens would be another. The usual problem is, someone before you is creative and TM or copyrighted "your" idea 75 years ago. Colt v. AWA over the pony logo comes to mind.

RatFink
July 4, 2004, 02:50 AM
Thanx again guy, it seems I have some homework to do, and then we'll see if it's worth the trouble. I have no idea if this is a big deal or not, and it's not even really about the money, mostly I would just hate to let it out and then suddenly find others making money off of something I came up with.

patentnonsense
July 4, 2004, 06:10 AM
There's some misinformation in some of these posts - trademarks are used to protect a company's identification of its own commercial products or services. (Example: "Ford Motors," "Quality is Job One," the Beretta logo.) A trademark filing generally needs to show present or planned use in trade.

Besides the patents.com site I mentioned earlier, you can also find some basic information on Trademarks at
http://www.uspto.gov/main/trademarks.htm .

Note disclaimer below...

RatFink
July 4, 2004, 01:39 PM
Note disclaimer below...

I have done so, and appreciate you sharing your knowledge.

jefnvk
July 4, 2004, 10:32 PM
Don't know how true this may be, but I once heard that if you write your writing down, sign it and mail yourself a copy, it can be used to show you wrote the phrase first, according to the postmark. Just don't open the evelope before you go to court.

Waitone
July 4, 2004, 10:37 PM
Big Business ain't the one to look out for.

The little guy is the one who will steal you fillings.

O.F.Fascist
July 5, 2004, 04:40 AM
The little guy is the one who will steal you fillings.

I concur, and generally I dont have a problem with it, its all capitalism anyways.

patentmike
July 5, 2004, 04:08 PM
Maybe this information would be useful.

http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ1.html

I'm not your lawyer either.

RatFink
July 5, 2004, 04:18 PM
It seems that a copyright is not the way to go.

WHAT IS NOT PROTECTED BY COPYRIGHT?
Several categories of material are generally not eligible for federal copyright protection. These include among others:

Works that have not been fixed in a tangible form of expression (for example, choreographic works that have not been notated or recorded, or improvisational speeches or performances that have not been written or recorded)

Titles, names, short phrases, and slogans; familiar symbols or designs; mere variations of typographic ornamentation, lettering, or coloring; mere listings of ingredients or contents

Ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts, principles, discoveries, or devices, as distinguished from a description, explanation, or illustration

Works consisting entirely of information that is common property and containing no original authorship (for example: standard calendars, height and weight charts, tape measures and rulers, and lists or tables taken from public documents or other common sources)


From the link provided by patentmike;
http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ1.html

Firethorn
July 5, 2004, 06:53 PM
jefnvk commented mailing a letter to yourself as a method for proving date of creation, but then not opening the letter.

A better method would to have a public notary stamp it. That way the proof is right on the paper. Much better because it basically amounts to the notary witnessing it.

As for copyright/tradmark: A trademark is used by a company for recognition. It's generally short, and has to be renewed. No theoretical limit on number of renewals, but it can't become a 'general usage' term. Kleenex skirts this by having a survey around renewal time asking "Is this a kleenex or a facial tissue".

Copyright is automatic, but for 'common use phrases', you may have a problem, as somebody might have come up with it first, putting it in 'general circulation'.

Hawkmoon
July 5, 2004, 10:18 PM
Copyright is for works of creative art. I'm not at all certain (and I am NOT a lawyer, but I did work in a field in which our work product was copyrighted upon creation) that a short, spoken phrase can be copyrighted, because you have to note with each reproduction that it's copyrighted. If the first, or nearly the first, public "publishing" is verbal, how the heck can you display the copyright notice? The notice MUST be displayed.

Ditto a trademark notice.

Mailing a copy to yourself is a way to establish when you thought it up, but it doesn't do anything for you as to preserving your rights to profit from it. As noted above, this does not appear to be something that fits under copyright, so you're looking at trademark. Registration of a trademark is NOT automatic upon first publication, so mailing a copy to yourself does precisely nothing. You can hang onto the envelope for twenty years, and if some high school kid twenty years later decides to register that phrase as a trademark, your envelope isn't worth the paper it's made of.

Andrew Rothman
July 5, 2004, 10:44 PM
Hawkmoon,

No offense, but you're wrong, and an intellectual property lawyer here pretty much confirmed it.

If anything, our pal has a chance with a copyright. He has no shot with a trademark. Period.

patentmike
July 6, 2004, 08:19 PM
Since we don't know what the subject matter is, and are not giving legal advice, it's your call. Is it worth risking 30 bucks?

From the LOC website:

"...To register a work, send the following three elements in the same envelope or package to:

Library of Congress
Copyright Office
101 Independence Avenue, S.E.
Washington, D.C. 20559-6000

A properly completed application form.
A nonrefundable filing fee of $30 for each application.
NOTE: Copyright Office fees are subject to change. For current fees, please check the Copyright Office Website at www.copyright.gov, write the Copyright Office, or call (202) 707-3000.


A nonreturnable deposit of the work being registered. The deposit requirements vary in particular situations. ..."

Hawkmoon
July 6, 2004, 11:36 PM
Matt Payne --

No offense taken, but I don't think I'm wrong. Here's what RatFink originally wrote:
I coined a phrase, it was something I was going to use vinyl letters for the back windshield of my truck.
A "phrase" -- short enough to fit on the back window of a pickup truck. No "publication" involved.

Here's from the Copyright Office's web site:
WHAT WORKS ARE PROTECTED?

Copyright protects "original works of authorship" that are fixed in a tangible form of expression. The fixation need not be directly perceptible so long as it may be communicated with the aid of a machine or device. Copyrightable works include the following categories:

1. literary works;
2. musical works, including any accompanying words
3. dramatic works, including any accompanying music
4. pantomimes and choreographic works
5. pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
6. motion pictures and other audiovisual works
7. sound recordings
8. architectural works

These categories should be viewed broadly. For example, computer programs and most "compilations" may be registered as "literary works"; maps and architectural plans may be registered as "pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works."
---------------------------------------------
WHAT IS NOT PROTECTED BY COPYRIGHT?

Several categories of material are generally not eligible for federal copyright protection. These include among others:

* Works that have not been fixed in a tangible form of expression (for example, choreographic works that have not been notated or recorded, or improvisational speeches or performances that have not been written or recorded)

* Titles, names, short phrases, and slogans; familiar symbols or designs; mere variations of typographic ornamentation, lettering, or coloring; mere listings of ingredients or contents

* Ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts, principles, discoveries, or devices, as distinguished from a description, explanation, or illustration

* Works consisting entirely of information that is common property and containing no original authorship (for example: standard calendars, height and weight charts, tape measures and rulers, and lists or tables taken from public documents or other common sources)

patentnonsense
July 7, 2004, 08:54 AM
No offense taken, but I don't think I'm wrong.

Hawkmoon, you'll notice that the two intellectual property lawyers who've participated in this thread aren't rushing to agree with you.

I hope to keep learning new things though my next 25 years in IP law practice, but I do recall that the last time I hit somebody's bumper sticker it seemed very tangible and public to me!

Hawkmoon
July 7, 2004, 09:01 AM
Well, you see ... I'm not an attorney of any kind, but as I noted, I work in a profession in which our work product is copyrighted upon publication. I also have regular contact with intellectual property attorneys. Based on what I've picked up both at seminars aimed at my profession and from my friends, IMHO this "window phrase" is a closer to a trademark than to a work of creative art eligible for copyright.

It's axiomatic that an attorney in a town with only one attorney will starve. If all ttorneys interpreted the law the same, there would be no lawsuits. So, as PatentMike wrote, if it's worth 30 bucks to find out, try to register it as a copyright and see what happens. Personally, I'd try for a trademark first.

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