The term intellectual property refers to broad property rights that are vested in the intangible. Owners of intellectual property generally have the right to possess the intellectual property, to prevent other individuals from possessing or utilizing the property, and to preserve the integrity of the property.
Intellectual property law governs copyright laws, patent laws, and trademark laws. The legal system that governs intellectual property provides privileges and protections for owners and inventors of property through intellectual property laws. The purpose of intellectual property law is to encourage new ideas, technologies, artistic creativity, and inventions for economic growth, with the confidence that their creative work and ideas will be protected at the legal level.
As mentioned above, intellectual property laws protect entities that do not have a physical form, which may include:
- Names and logos that are attached to products;
- Inventions; and
- Original works of authorship.
Because no individual can physically possess these things, the laws which apply to personal property cannot and do not apply to intellectual property. Because of that, intellectual property laws generally protect the exclusive rights to use or reproduce the intellectual property, rather than the actual possession of the property.
Once again, it is possible to copyright a logo, through obtaining a copyright with the United States Patent and Trade Office (“USPTO”). Obtaining a copyright with the USPTO provides protection from other parties utilizing one’s copyright in the market, and helps the owner of the copyright to more easily demonstrate that their logo was first in use in the market.
Logo theft is a specific form of intellectual property theft that occurs when a third party utilizes another party’s copyrighted logo for financial gain. Specifically, logo theft is the unauthorized use or reproduction of a trademark, such as a logo or brand symbol.
For example, when a clothing manufacturer attaches brand labels to generic items, attempting to have them pass as being authentic, that would constitute logo theft. As such, the owner of a copyrighted logo would then be able to sue the party utilizing their logo under copyright infringement laws.
How Do I Know That My Logo Has Been Stolen?
In order to prove that one’s logo has been stolen, the copyright owner for the logo must prove the legal elements of infringement. Once again, infringement laws are especially important because they help protect creators of original work from the unauthorized use or access to their creations, including copyrighted logos.
Although the exact definitions and elements for logo infringement may vary depending on the subject matter, infringement generally requires proof of the following elements:
- That the victim owned the rights to a valid copyright for their logo;
- That the infringer had access to the protected logo;
- That the infringer exploited their access to or used the protected work without authorization from the original logo owner; and
- That there are no applicable exceptions to the unauthorized use of the logo.
If an owner of a copyrighted logo is able to prove all of the following elements, and suffered any quantifiable financial damages, they will be able to seek court intervention to preserve their copyrighted logo and prevent any further infringing uses. Common legal remedies for infringement include a cease and desist order to prevent further unauthorized use, and even the filing of a civil lawsuit to recover and financial damages that the owner of the copyrighted logo may have suffered as a result of the infringing party’s use of their logo.
What Are the Ways to Prevent Logo Theft?
Once again copyright protection for a logo arises the moment that the logo creator fixes their work in a tangible form. Once a logo has copyright protection, the creator then will be able to decide who can use the logo, and for what purposes the logo can be used. Simply put, once the logo is protected, no one else can use the logo without the creator’s permission.
Although copyright protection for a logo arises the moment the creator fixes it in a tangible form, obtaining a copyright from the USPTO is a great way of preventing logo theft. This is because under federal copyright law, a copyright obtained from the USPTO entitles the owner to many exclusive rights, such as the right to:
- Reproduce and use the logo as they wish; and
- Rights to produce a license for the use of the logo by third parties;
Once the creator of a logo obtains a copyright from the USPTO, they will be entitled to more protections than if they did not obtain a copyright from the USPTO. Obtaining a valid copyright form the USPTO will add the logo to the database of the USPTO and give an official date of the time in which the copyright was obtained.
The date is very important as it is easy to show that the infringing party knew or should have known of the logo being copyrighted if their infringing use occurred after the date that the copyright on the logo was obtained and published in the USPTO’s database.
Are There Any Legal Penalties for Logo Theft?
As mentioned above, there are legal penalties associated with logo theft. In addition to protection by copyrighting a logo, a logo may also be trademarked and protected by trademark laws. Specifically, a logo can be trademarked to distinguish a company’s goods and services from those manufactured or sold by others and to indicate the original source of the goods. As such, if a third party utilizes a protected logo and commits logo theft, they may be subject to both copyright and trademark penalties.
Once again, the most common legal penalty for logo theft is a cease and desist letter or injunction order. The cease and desist letter, or injunction ordered by a court, will direct the infringing party from continuing their infringing use of the logo. Another common legal remedy is a civil lawsuit in which the owner of the copyrighted and trademarked logo sues the infringing party in civil court for financial damages suffered as a result of the infringing party’s use.
Examples of common legal penalties for copyright infringement generally include:
- Civil damages in the exact amount of the damages and lost profits;
- Injunctions in order to prevent the infringer from continuing their infringing use;
- Impoundment or confiscation of any infringing works;
- A prison sentence; and
- Mandatory payment of court and attorney fees by the defendant.
Penalties for trademark infringement will typically follow similar guidelines, with legal penalties depending on several determining factors, including:
- Applicable state and federal laws;
- The nature of the infringing activities; and
- The amount of losses suffered by the plaintiff.
Are There Any Defenses for Logo Theft Charges?
In short, yes, there are legal defenses for logo theft charges that an accused party may use to have the civil lawsuit brought against them dismissed. Specifically, the following circumstances may constitute legal defenses for logo theft:
- The logo that was used was not a valid trademark or did not have copyright protection, i.e. it was never used in commerce or fixed in a tangible medium;
- The likelihood of confusion is very low, meaning consumers are not confused as to the original creator of the logo or confused as to what the logo is identifying; and/or
- The original logo or trademark has become generic, meaning the logo does not specifically identify any type of product or service.
For example, an owner of a logo cannot sue another party simply because their logo uses a similar shade of color as theirs. The plaintiff, i.e. the owner of the copyrighted or trademarked logo that suffered financial harm, must be able to prove all of the elements of their civil claim. If they are unable to prove all of the elements, then their claim must be dismissed.
Should I Hire a Lawyer for Assistance with Logo Theft Claims?
If you are facing any legal claims involving logo theft, it is in your best interests to consult with an experienced trademark lawyer.
An experienced trademark attorney can help research the local laws in order to determine what legal rights and options you have regarding protections with your logo. Additionally, an experienced intellectual property attorney will also be able to represent you in court, as needed, should legal action and intervention become necessary.