Protecting Furniture Designs-Patents or Copyrights?

I was recently asked about how to protect ornamental and artistic designs with respect to furniture. My first reaction was to say “design patents”! But then I thought about it and realized using copyright in addition to design patents would be useful in protecting the furniture design.
The case of Huebbe v. Oklahoma Casting Co. et al.,2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 91824 (W.D. Okla. Sept. 30, malady 2009) was about animal designs such as stags placed on furniture such as chandeliers. The defendants argued that the plaintiffs could not win on copyright claims regarding the chandeliers because: “chandeliers are “useful articles” under the Act, pill and copyright protection extends only to those portions of the designs that can be “identified separately from, and are capable of existing independently of, the utilitarian aspects of the article.” 17 U. S. C. § 101.” However, the court disagreed and said: “Plaintiff’s chandeliers are not excluded from copyright protection because they are useful articles; rather, Plaintiff’s artistic expressions are conceptually separable from the utilitarian function of these items.”
Therefore, if your furniture designs have artistic expressions that are conceptually separable from the utilitarian function of the furniture, then copyright protection is available.
Of course design patents were created expressly to protect items like furniture when they have unique ornamental designs. The Patent Office defines “design” with respect to design patents as follows:
“A design consists of the visual ornamental characteristics embodied in, or applied to, an article of manufacture. Since a design is manifested in appearance, the subject matter of a design patent application may relate to the configuration or shape of an article, to the surface ornamentation applied to an article, or to the combination of configuration and surface ornamentation.”
Thus, please consider both Copyright and Design Patents when thinking on how to protect your furniture designs.

What is a good trademark specimen?

My trademark clients often have questions about what to use for a proper trademark specimen. Many times a client will suggest using a letterhead that shows the trademark, pilule or a website that has the mark somewhere on it. However, the USPTO lists the following as proper specimens for use of a trademark with goods (products):
“Normally, a specimen for a mark used on goods shows the mark on the actual goods or packaging for the goods. You may submit a tag or label for the goods; a container for the goods; a display associated with the goods; or a photograph of the goods that shows use of the mark on the goods. Do not submit the actual product.

Invoices, announcements, order forms, bills of lading, leaflets, brochures, publicity releases, letterhead and business cards generally are NOT acceptable specimens for goods.”

With respect to trademarks used with services,the USPTO .states the following:
“A specimen for a mark used in connection with services must show the mark used in the sale or advertising for the services. You may submit a sign; a brochure about the services; an advertisement for the services; a business card or stationery showing the mark in connection with the services; or a photograph showing the mark as used in rendering or advertising the services. There must be some reference to the type of services rendered on the specimen, i.e. , not just a display of the mark itself. For example, if the mark sought to be registered is “XYZ,” a business card that only shows the mark “XYZ” would not be acceptable. A business card that states “XYZ REAL ESTATE” would be acceptable.”
So, using a website or stationary with letterhead is normally NOT a proper specimen for goods, but may be proper for services.

How can you get money to develop your invention?

One interesting way to obtaining funding to develop an invention is to go through crowdfunding to obtain the necessary money. Many of my clients are independent inventors who may have a great invention, but they do not have the ten’s of thousands of dollars necessary to have prototypes built, and to finance a manufacturing run. Crowdfunding may be the answer. Wikipedia has a nice definition for crowdfunding: “…the collective cooperation, attention and trust by people who network and pool their money and other resources together, usually via the Internet, to support efforts initiated by other people or organizations.” Fon instance, one may post to a Crowdfunding site his or her invention and request a small amount from each person to fund a manufacturing run of the invention. However, make sure you have filed for patent protection PRIOR to disclosing your invention to the public! The Wikipedia article on Crowdfunding is a good place to get more information.

Ask a Patent Attorney Forum!

Hi Everyone!
I am happy to answer questions from clients and potential clients. However, if you would like to ask a general question that is publically posted, the United Inventors Association has a forum called “ Ask a Patent Attorney “. Beware, that you may get some answers that are incorrect, and you should not disclose information about your invention that could be construed as a “public disclosure”.