Re: Protecting Designs

Before you read this realize that I am not a lawyer - just someone who has worked with them...
We develop software and here is how we have protected our work.
1.) Copyrighted the name of the software as well as any "lingo" that we developed (this is not cheap if you really want to protect your implementation). Note that we needed to be careful only to attempt to copyright truly unique words, expressions, and acronyms.
2.) Copyrighted the first 1/3 and last 1/3 of the code. This theoretically protects the actual code we have written from being stolen and used by someone else. Note that this does not protect someone reading our code, understanding what it does, and then implementing it a different way but achieving the same results.
3.) Trademarked any and all logos.
4.) Applied for patents unique designs that we wanted to protect. This is by far the longest and most expensive of the processes but the only way to protect R&D investments.
If you want to do this right, hire a lawyer that specializes in this type of thing. Unfortunately that is prohibitively expensive unless you are really trying to protect an investment. It cost us approximately $2000 to protect a piece of software.
Finally, for what it is worth, our lawyer said something that impressed upon me. It was: "You cannot protect an idea but you can protect the expression of that idea"
How all of this pertains to woodworking plans, I am not sure. My suggestion would be to contact a small law firm that specializes in copyright/trademark law and ask them. You can usually get a little free advice when you talk to these guys, especially if they are small.
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Thomas Mitchell asks:

http://www.loc.gov/copyright/faq.html#q11
and
http://www.alankorn.com/articles/reg_copyright.html
Those might help. AFAIK, plans are copyrightable. Lord knows, the people I know in the publishing business have gotten almighty upset when someone re-publishes a plan without attribution or permission.
Charlie Self
"The Holocaust was an obscene period in our nation's history. I mean in this century's history. But we all lived in this century. I didn't live in this century." Dan Quayle
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*BOGOSITY* you -cannot- copyright individual words, phrases, product names, or acronyms.
"Trademark", maybe. *NOT* copyright.

*BOGOSITY* the -entire- work is copyrighted *automatically* when it is first written down.

That is what copyright and/or trademark does, yes.
*PATENT*, on the other hand, protects the _idea_ itself.

plans and drawings _are_ protected by copyright.
Building something from plans is a 'derivative work' of the plans, and requires permission of the copyright owner.
Note: things get -messy-, when the plans are _created_ from an existing object. Then the plans are a derivative work of the object, and you need the copyright owner of _that_ object to give you permission to reproduce your derivative work (the plans). Before somebody can make something from _those_ plans, they have to have _your_ permission (as the copyright owner of the derivative work that is the plans), *and* that of the copyright owner of the object from which the plans were derived.
Now, if the object you derived your plans from was *itself* built from plans, You've got the permission of the copyright owner of those plans, too. As does anybody who builds from your plans.
Then there's the question of where _those_ plans came from. <grin>

Your plans ARE protected by copyright. Whether or not you expressly state it.
Somebody building _from_those_plans_ is creating a 'derivative work'. At a minimum, "offering derivative works for sale" requires the permission of the copyright owner from which those works were derived. Whether a _single_ such derivative work, for _personal_ use only, would require permission is rather murky. If you do create that derivative for your own use, if you ever sell it, or even give it away, _at_that_point_ you've *definitely* crossed the line of copyright infringement.
This is something that the woodworking magazines, and other commercial plans sources face _all_the_time_. Usual procedure is to sell a copy of the (copyrighted) plans, _with_ a 'license' to reproduce a small number objects _derived_from_ those plans. Maybe 2 objects, maybe 5 -- one magazine (I think it is) licenses "up to 25".

"Conventional" copyright *does* apply to the plans, drawings ,parts-lists, etc. The 'idea', for which those plans are an 'expression', is not protected by conventional copyright.
There is a special class "design copyright" for protecting unique designs. See an 'Intellectual Property Law" specialist, to determine if this is appropriate for what you are considering doing.
This is a relatively _new_ area of law, it'd be worth consulting *several* specialists, to make sure their "opinions" agree.
Figuring out _what parts_ (if any) of a design are 'protectable' is arcane art, in and of itself. "Unique elements" -- _probably_. "Elements commonly used in other, similar, objects" -- almost certainly _not_. The overall 'look' and/or 'style' -- well, *maybe*, *if* you can identify what makes that 'look' _unique_.
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Thanks for correcting this. I twisted the two around.

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Technically yes. Practically, not so sure. The hope of enforcement required that we submit the first and last third of all source code with the copyright application.

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