Whether you recently started a new business or have been your own boss for years, you've invested a lot of time, money, and personal effort in your company and product. Seeing your own designs or ideas being used by your competitors can feel like a literal punch in the gut. If you haven't licensed or patented these products, do you have any legal recourse? Read on to learn more about fair use and what you can do if you want to stop someone else from profiting from your hard work.
Do you have legal options if you haven't copyrighted your logo or patented your product?
When you're just starting out, you may not put much thought into legally protecting your business's products or publicity material. However, taking these steps early can help you nip any potential copyright or patent violations in the bud by allowing you to file for a temporary injunction or restraining order against the perpetrator.
Even if you don't have a copyright on your works or a patent on your products, you may be able to ask a court to require your competitor to stop copying your efforts. You'll need to gather and provide evidence that you invented or designed your products or logo well before they were copied by another person, as well as evidence that the person you're suing knew (or should have known) they were copying material already in use.
In addition to an injunction requiring the offender to stop using your materials, you may also want to seek financial damages to help compensate you for your legal fees and any loss of revenue associated with the theft. To do this, you'll need to provide evidence pointing to your specific losses. The court has discretion to award funds based on the damage you've suffered as well as the egregiousness of the offender's conduct.
What is fair use?
One potential defense to these charges is that the offender was protected under the "fair use" doctrine. This allows others to use logos, promotional materials, or other intellectual property without penalty so long as it is done for journalistic, nonprofit, or educational purposes. For example, your logo could be used in a college presentation on local businesses or in a news story without your consent.
However, if the logo is being used by another individual or business to promote their product or make a profit, the fair use doctrine would not apply. Your attorney, like those at D.B. Clark Law Office, should be able to successfully invalidate this claim if the defendant is profiting (directly or indirectly) from your work.