Ruttler Mills PLLC

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Unique Product Designs

Posted Thursday, February 7, 2008 by Jim Ruttler

A uniquely designed product shape is potentially protectable through trademarks, design patents, and copyrights. First, copyright law protects creative expressions that are fixed in a tangible form, which can include uniquely designed products. In order to secure the full rights provided for by copyright law, it is necessary to file a copyright application with the Library of Congress. The application process is quick and inexpensive; however, copyrights do not protect against independent creation and they are subject to a limited term.

Next, design patents protect new and non-obvious ornamental designs on useful articles, which again can include uniquely designed products. In order to secure a design patent it is necessary to file a formal patent application with the Patent Office and undergo a complex examination process. Design patents provide strong protection against unauthorized making, using, selling, and importing of the specific design. However, design patents are expensive, easy to design around, and expire after a very limited term.

Lastly, trademarks protect names, logos, and any other item that serves to identify the source of a product in the marketplace, which also can include uniquely designed products. In order to secure a trademark for a unique product design, it is necessary to file a trademark application with the Trademark Office and undergo an examination process. Trademarks provide fairly strong protection against confusingly similar product designs and can last indefinitely. However, registration and infringement require actual sales of products and it can take up to five years to receive full trademark protection for a product design.

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