[Infographic] How to Protect Your Brand’s Graphic Design Assets

How to Protect Your Brand’s Graphic Design Assets 600x300

 

Your name and logo are assets to your company: they represent your brand to prospects and customers, establish a presence in the market, and set you apart from the competition. Any form of visual asset is subject to ownership rights. To protect your brand’s assets, you have to understand intellectual property (IP) first.

 

IP protection covers works, processes, symbols, slogans, logos, written documents, and designs created or owned by your company. These assets need to be protected against individuals or other companies who may use it without your permission.

 

You can file a suit against those who infringe your company’s IP. However, this entails registering your assets with your country’s IP office first, like the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) or the US Copyright Office (USCO). There’s also a matter of what to register for—trademark or copyright. Trademark is IP protection for your brand’s name and logo, while copyright is for artistic, creative, and literary works. To help you understand trademark and copyright better, check out the infographic below!

 

How to Protect Your Brand’s Graphic Design Assets

 

Trademark

Trademark Protection

As per the USPTO, a trademark safeguards “words, names, symbols, sounds or colors that distinguish goods and services from those manufactured or sold by others and to indicate the source of the goods.” These include the business name, slogans, logos, and other assets that describe a brand and its product. A trademark can also be a combination of words, symbols, or types of design.

 

How to Trademark Your Logo

Whether or not you decide to outsource logo design, make sure it is ready for adoption once finished, and register it with the USPTO, or your country’s equivalent, as soon as possible by following these steps:

  1. Use the USPTO database to search for trademarks that may be similar to your logo, including those that may create potential conflicts, to make sure that your logo is in the clear. This will help you save money and effort.
  2. File your application via the Trademark Electronic Application System, including a detailed description of the logo and its significance.
  3. Approval usually takes four months, though it varies. Check your status regularly.
  4. Once approved, set up a “trademark watch” service to find possible infringement cases and protect your rights.

Trademark Infringement Cases

Trademark infringement cases are usually defined by the public confusion it brings about the source of a product. That is why you need to prove you own a valid mark and that the infringing side is actually causing misunderstanding to customers, negatively affecting your business.

Here are some infamous cases of trademark infringement:

  • Adidas AG v. ELEAGUE/Turner

With 52 opposition points, Adidas claimed that Turner Sports, owners of ELEAGUE, an official worldwide e-sports league, infringed copyright by using three stripes on their logo. Adidas asserted that it caused “confusion and dilution of the brand” for using the three stripes on different instances, including on ELEAGUE’s form sponsors and even on clothing for characters in the game.

  • Louis Vuitton v. Louis Vuiton Dak

A South Korean fried chicken restaurant lost a trademark battle with a French fashion house. The court ruled that Louis Vuiton Dak shares a name too similar to Louis Vuitton. The restaurant’s logo and packaging also closely resemble the fashion brand’s imagery. The French company contests that the association with fried chicken clashes with their branding.

 

The restaurant decided to rename into Louisvui Tondak, but this isn’t enough, and they were hit with a non-compliance fine of 14.5 million Korean Won (around $12,000).

  • Academy Awards v. GoDaddy

In a five-year legal battle, the Academy Awards sued web-hosting company GoDaddy over cybersquatting issues. The Academy claimed that GoDaddy allowed individuals to buy 57 “confusing” domains similar to their name like 2011Oscars.com for profit. The judge found that GoDaddy did not “possess the requisite bad faith intent to profit.”

 

Copyright

Copyright Protection

According to the US Copyright Law, every original work of authorship is automatically under copyright protection, as the law covers “original works of authorship expressed in a physical form” like books, movies, songs, photos, choreography, etc.

 

It protects the expression of facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation on your works, but not the facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation themselves. The author or artist gets exclusive rights to make and sell copies of their works, create derivative works, and perform or display them publicly.

 

There are three requirements for a work to be eligible under copyright protection.

  • Original: Independently created and not copied from something or someone else.
  • Creative: Demonstrates some amount of creativity.
  • Fixed: Placed sufficiently permanent or stable in a tangible medium where it can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated for some time.

Transfer of Copyright

As mentioned, copyright is given automatically to the creator of the original work. In some instances, though, someone else may own the copyright. For example, a designer automatically gets the copyright, but the transfer to his/her client isn’t automatic.

 

If you outsource your graphic design work, ask the designer for the transfer of logo rights to you. It should be made in writing, as non-exclusive rights can be transferred orally. The same goes with works made for hire. There are two ways to know if a graphic design job is considered as work for hire:

  • The business specially ordered or commissioned an independent contractor or freelancer.
  • The signed written agreement specifically used the terms “work for hire” or “work made for hire” to describe the nature of the partnership.

This means that if you paid someone who does graphic design in the Philippines for work made for hire, you as the hiring party owns the copyright and should be named author in the application for registration.

 

Copyright Infringement Cases

Registering a copyright to your creative works would allow you to sue anyone who tries to copy your work or exploit it for their own gain. To get compensated for copyright infringement, you have to prove that your work was copied without your approval. Statutory damages and legal fees can be claimed from a copyright infringement lawsuit.

 

There are some limitations on copyright owners, though. For instance, copyright owners may not be compensated even when someone uses their work without permission or payment, which is the case under Fair Use policies.

 

Here are some infamous cases of copyright infringement:

  • Davidson v. the United States (US Postal Service)

The US Postal Service was found to have infringed the copyright of artist Robert Davidson after they used an image of the artist’s duplicate sculpture of the Statue of Liberty which he did as a prop for a hotel in Las Vegas. The image was placed on a stamp after it was mistaken as an image of the actual statue. The government was fined several million dollars for this.

  • Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams v. Marvin Gaye

The estate of Marvin Gaye sued Thicke and Williams after they found that the duo’s hit song “Blurred Lines” used a closely similar-sounding walking bass to that of Gaye’s 1977 funk song “Got to Give It Up.” The courts found Thicke and Williams guilty of plagiarizing Gaye’s song; the two were ordered to pay $5.3 million, plus 50% of all royalties for the song, making it one of the biggest payouts in music copyright history.

  • PlayerUnknown’s Battleground v. Fortnite

In this software design copyright case, game publishers Bluehole claimed that another publisher, Epic Games, released a game that is similar to their own. Bluehole released PUBG in March 2017, a battle royale computer game where 100 players are sent to a deserted location where they have to find weapons and protect themselves against other players.

 

That same year, Epic Games released the free game Fortnite, where 100 players are sent on a remote island with just a pickaxe. They also needed to scavenge for weapons and fight to survive and build forts with materials found on the island. Unfortunately for Bluehole, Fortnite became more popular during the dispute. They ended up dropping the lawsuit, though a settlement was never made public.

 

Choose Your Protection

Corporate logos may qualify for both copyright and trademark. However, they protect different aspects of your brand assets. So, which one should you apply for?

 

When choosing the IP protection for your business’ visual assets, keep in mind that a trademark is useful in preventing other entities from using it and causing confusion in the marketplace, and copyright prevents unwanted copying of your original idea and design. Considering those, evaluate which protection is more appropriate for your brand assets.

 

Now that you’ve learned how to protect your brand, contact us at MicroCreatives to find out how you can amp up your branding and identity!

 

Disclaimer: This blog is based on the United States Trademark and Copyright Laws. Policies governing trademark and copyright may vary per country.