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Four Ways to Protect Your Arts/Crafts Intellectual Property

Learn the Difference Between Copyrights, Trademarks, Licensing and Patents


Desiging a product is hard work - the result of training, experience and the creative process. You also must be a smart businessperson exploring creative alternatives to keep your cost to market low.

After you take so much time bringing your idea to life, it is vexing beyond belief when you discover your arts/crafts design or promotional copy is stolen. In the arts and crafts world, imitation is not the most sincere form of flattery; it’s a potential drain on your gross income and your ability to support yourself.

Want to fight back? To follow are legal ways to protect your intellectual property.

1. Copyrights

The most relevant aspect of copyrights for arts/crafts businesses is that they protect the written word. We sell to customers that have the alternative of purchasing mass produced items at any discount department store. A good part of our appeal is the story that goes behind each of our products. Sometimes it takes me a few hours to be completely happy with a description for a new product.

Your arts/crafts ideas and designs aren't protected by the copyright law, although the way in which they are expressed may be - thus the importance of protecting your written word. The written word is automatically copyrighted for the life of the author plus seventy years. However to perfect your copyright, it must be registered.

2. Trademarks

A trademark is a unique symbol, word, or phrase that identifies your product. Two symbols designate a trademark. One is ™ and the other is an R inside a circle ®. Of the two, only the ® indicates that a formal registration with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has been completed.

One arts and crafts business example is Tiffany & Company designer Elsa Peretti®. She trademarks both the name of her designs such as Diamonds by the Yard® and her actual name. There are a few criteria for a phrase being eligible for trademark protection. One is that it must be unique. For example, the term facial tissue is not unique but Kleenex® is.

3. Licensing

One day you get a thrilling telephone call – a manufacturer wants to license one of your arts/crafts products and mass-produce it under their company name. This is a great way to make money but there are many different issues you need to address when licensing your design. For example, will you receive artist credit? How are you to do paid – a flat fee for the design or royalties based upon sales? What about any non-compete clauses?

Due care must be taken to weigh all aspects of the contract to make sure you’re not actually losing money by licensing your product.

4. Patents

Patent protection has been available to artisans since the late 1800s to protect both the ornamental or surface design of the product and also how the product works. In order to receive a design patent you must have invented an arts/crafts design that has a ‘new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture’.

The patent approval process usually take quite a while (ergo the phrase “patent pending”). Most arts/crafts businesses will be better served by copyrighting their work. However, this is a complex subject that is best discussed with your attorney should you think you may benefit from seeking a design patent.

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