Your Intellectual Property - Protect, Protect, Protect

The protagonist in the Fountainhead, Howard Roark, was a champion of individualism living in a world where collectivism was worshipped. I do not know whether Ayn Rand purposefully made Roark an architect but considering the lack of intellectual property (IP) protection for architectural design back in the day, it makes sense why every other architect in the book never felt the urge to be innovative.

This is not to say architectural designs were not protected at all, courts did consider blueprints to fall within the ambit of “drawings of technical nature,” which were protected. Although the 1976 Copyright Act expressly included architectural drawings and plans, most courts did not consider architectural plans as sufficient proof of IP rights in constructing a building. This reasoning was based in part on the longstanding copyright principle that one cannot have a copyright interest in an idea. Thankfully things changed for the positive in 1990 when Congress recognized the public importance of architectural works and afforded stronger protection under the Architectural Works Copyright Protection Act (AWCPA) that amended the existing Copyright Act.

Under this Act, architects are granted two levels of protection: (1) under 17 U.S.C. Sec. 102(a)(5) for diagrams, models, and technical drawings, and (2) under 17 U.S.C. Sec. 102(a)(8) for the actual design of the building as embodied in the buildings, plans, or drawings. These rights do come with limitations though. For example you see tourists pose for photographs in front of beautiful buildings all the time. Can the architect sue them for copyright infringement? Thankfully not, otherwise a lot of us would be in trouble! When a building is in public view the taking and displaying of photographs is completely legal. Furthermore, the Act does not prevent an owner of a building from making alternations or destroying the building if they so choose. The architect, as much as they may be attached to their creation, cannot do anything to stop the owner.

Another important branch of IP protection relevant to architects and engineers is trade dress. Stated broadly, trade dress is the appearance of a product or its packaging that is protectable under IP law due to having acquired secondary meaning in the market. Many may not be aware that architectural designs also qualify as trade dress if they meet certain conditions. Trade dress is attained over time when a particular design achieves identifiable status in the market and the mind of consumers. When consumers start associating your packaging or design to represent your brand, you have acquired trade dress in said design. Although registration with the USPTO is not necessary, like copyright registration, it serves several advantages such as providing constructive notice to the world at large. Since Apple did win one of the biggest trade dress infringement suits in recent past against Samsung for its iPhone design, they certainly understand the importance of trade dress as a valuable protection mechanism. They also have trade dress protection for their famed glass domes at the Apple stores in New York and Shanghai, which happen to be architectural designs.

Despite having a general idea of what type of IP you may have, getting a handle on what IP you specifically own can be confusing. An oversight here, failure to file an application there, and you may end up losing out on valuable assets. Traklight offers industry changing solutions that are both affordable and easy-to-use. The ID your IP service is an online self-guided IP report generator that will instantly give you feedback on the type of IP you have and what steps you must take to best leverage and protect them. The Silver Vault is a cloud storage service catering to entrepreneurs and startups that generate IP in the course of their business and need a dependable location to store sensitive data while making retrieval just as easy for those authorized. The Vault is similar to an electronic file cabinet where keeping IP and business data organized is a cinch and not only helps with running things smoothly but also assists with due diligence and valuation in the future.

About The Author

Traklight, [], empowers entrepreneurs to leverage their ideas and safeguard their success. Traklight understands that the ideas and intellectual property (IP) are intertwined, which is why they developed two cloud-software solutions. Traklight’s ID your IP® is a self-guided questionnaire that allows users to easily identify and capture all the potential value of their business ideas to create a custom IP strategy. The auto-generated reports from ID your IP highlight users’ potential intellectual property, saving them time and money with attorneys. In addition, Traklight’s IP Vault® makes the storage and sharing of users’ sensitive business documents ironclad and straightforward. Take control and execute with Traklight!

Mrigank Mishraw, a law graduate from India, has a background of working with startups, handling social media and legal subject matter expertise. He was hired as Traklght's first official intern in 2013 and quickly became an indispensable part of the Traklight team. He is currently pursuing a Juris Doctor (J.D.) from the University of Arizona.