Whether you have created a unique piece of art or come up with a great logo for your product, you will want to protect your intellectual property to the fullest extent provided by the law. Copyrights and design patents are the usual ways to protect your art; however, there are some important limitations to these protections. First and foremost among them are images that are in the public domain. Among these, natural forms are among the types of images that may be difficult to protect if you are not careful.
Forms found in nature are considered part of the public domain in order to allow everyone to enjoy their benefits. For example, no one can copyright an oak tree; if such a thing were possible, there would be only one company that would be allowed to produce images of oak trees. It is easy to see how this would substantially hamper artistic expression and creativity.
Using Copyright to Protect Unique Art
On the other hand, an artist who draws a picture of an oak tree may copyright that image to prevent other people from using or reproducing it. However, on a practical level, the closer your art resembles the original oak tree, the more difficult it would be to prevent someone from creating an identical image. Because both of you have copied from the same source, which is not copyrighted, there is no infringement of your copyright. What copyright does protect is your art. Thus, using unique techniques or stylization is a good way to distinguish your art and give it more features than a simple generic image. When a picture is easily identified as the creation of a particular artist, it is easier to copyright and to defend against infringement.
Design Patents and How They Work
Another tool that can help protect your intellectual property is the design patent. Unlike copyright, which protects all types of art, a design patent will protect an image that is attached to a functional product, such as a belt buckle in the shape of a brand logo. The advantage of a design patent is that it can protect images that are very similar to nature and may not be covered by a copyright. The design patent will prevent another company from using the image to sell its own products; it may not always prevent artists from creating representations. For instance, a business may obtain a design patent for a generic stylized tree shape that is stamped on its product. Its competitors will then be prevented from stamping the same or a substantially similar image on their products or from incorporating it into their logos. However, it does not mean that no one may ever draw a picture of a generic tree shape.
When an image qualifies for copyright protection, a copyright can be relatively easy to obtain. Design patents must be applied for within one year of beginning to use the design, and the application process may be complex and lengthy. When an image is used for product or brand name purposes, design patents offer more extensive and practical protections. A business that uses an image to sell its product intends the effect of distinguishing its brand and achieving customer recognition. Design patents can help you to effectively safeguard your interest in protecting the uniqueness of your logo.
If you want to ensure that your nature-based art is not copied and used by competitors, you should take steps to protect your intellectual property. Copyrights and design patents are the two types of protections that are available. If your image is highly stylized and unique, it is likely to qualify for a copyright. If, on the other hand, you want to use an exact reproduction of a natural form, you may be able to obtain a design patent if the image is part of a functional product.
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