If you're a print on demand store owner, you know your designs are vital to your business. They set you apart from your competitors and are the selling point of your products!

But with the rise of copycats and intellectual property theft, protecting your designs has become increasingly critical.

In this article, we will explore various strategies and tools you can use to protect your print on demand designs, so you can focus on growing your business with peace of mind.

Let's first go over what you need to know about your designs first with intellectual property.

What is intellectual property?

Older man behind a laptop

Intellectual property (IP) is a category of legal rights related to creations of the mind, such as literary, artistic, and scientific works.

For a print on demand business, intellectual property is your rights to your creative works, such as designs, artwork, and other content you create or own.

If you are running a print on demand business, it is essential to understand the intellectual property rights that exist in the designs and content you use!

What are the different types of legal protection?

You may consider registering trademarks or filing for copyright protection to protect your intellectual property in a print on demand business.

But before you do, let's learn more about what these are:

What is copyright?

Copyright is a form of legal protection that applies to original creative works, such as literary, artistic, and other intellectual works.

For print on demand businesses, copyright is for any original designs or content you create and use in your business, such as graphics, logos, artwork, and other creative works.

All rights reserved example

Copyright protection gives the owner of the exclusive work rights to reproduce, distribute, display, and create derivative works based on the original work.

You must ensure you have the rights or licenses to use any designs or content in your business that are not your original creations.

For example, if you use a design or artwork protected by copyright without permission from the owner, you could be liable for copyright infringement.

It is essential to be aware of copyright laws and ensure that you are not infringing on the rights of others in your print on demand business. This can help you avoid potential legal issues and protect your intellectual property.

How to obtain a copyright

Homepage of the US Copyright Office

Copyright ownership is automatically granted to the creator of an original work when it's created.

This means that as soon as an original work is created and recorded in some way - such as written down, recorded, or photographed - the creator owns the copyright to that work!

However, registering your copyright with the US Copyright Office can provide additional legal protections.

It's important to note that some exceptions to automatic copyright ownership may exist. For example, if the work was created as part of employment or commissioned work, the copyright may belong to the employer or the person who commissioned the work.

It's essential to review the specific laws in your country to understand the rules around copyright ownership!

What is a trademark?

The different trademark symbols
Examples of trademark symbols. For more info, check out the source.

A trademark is a symbol, word, or phrase used to identify and distinguish the goods or services of one seller from those of others.

It is a type of intellectual property protection used to protect a business's commercial identity and prevent others from using similar marks that could confuse consumers.

For example, trademark law often protects a logo or brand name.

Trademark law provides exclusive rights to the owner to use their mark for goods or services and prevent consumer confusion.

Copyright law protects original creative works, giving the owner exclusive rights to reproduce, distribute, display, and create derivative works based on the original.

It is essential to understand both trademark and copyright law to ensure that you are not infringing on the rights of others and to protect your intellectual property.

This includes ensuring you have the necessary rights or licenses to use any designs or content in your business and registering any original works or trademarks to gain additional legal protection!

How to obtain a trademark

The home page of Trademarkia
Trademarkia homepage

Obtaining a trademark involves several steps, but the process can generally be broken down into three phases: research, application, and registration.

First, a comprehensive search is essential to ensure that another business does not already use the trademark.

This can be done through the United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) website, other databases, and search engines where you can apply.

This application requires you to provide specific information about your business and the trademark, including the class of goods or services it will be used.

After submitting your application, it will be reviewed by a trademark examiner, who will determine whether it meets all the requirements.

If approved, your trademark will be registered, and you'll receive a registration certificate!

The process can take several months to a year or more, depending on various factors, so ensure your POD business is sustainable to get the most out of your trademark.

What is a patent?

A patent is a legal document that gives the holder the exclusive right to make, use, and sell an invention for a certain period.

The purpose of a patent is to protect an inventor's intellectual property and prevent others from making, using, or selling the same invention without permission.

Now how does this fit with print on demand?

They may prevent others from producing or selling certain types of products.

For example, if someone were to invent a new type of printing technology specifically designed for print on demand applications, they may seek to obtain a patent for their invention.

This could prevent competitors from using the same technology without permission, giving the patent holder a competitive advantage.

So while patents pertain more to specific printing processes, it's still crucial for POD store owners to know in case they're investing in their product or printing technology.

The 5-step process to protecting your POD designs

Now we know all the different kinds of legal protection, here's an easy five-step guide to seeing the process in action!

1. Search for a trademark

The USPTO homepage
The USPTO database page

Before selling your designs, you must ensure they don't infringe on someone else's trademark.

You can search the USPTO's trademark database to see if any existing trademarks are similar to your design.

For example, if you've created a design for a t-shirt that features a famous brand's logo, you may be infringing on their trademark and could face legal action.

2. Register your copyright

Copyright protection automatically applies to original works of authorship, including designs.

However, registering your copyright with the US Copyright Office can provide additional legal protections.

For example, if you've created an original design for a poster, registering your copyright can help prevent others from copying and selling it without permission.

3. File for a design patent (Optional)

If your design is unique and has a functional purpose, you may be able to obtain a design patent.

This can protect your invention from being copied by others for some time.

For example, suppose you've developed a new type of smartphone case that is aesthetically pleasing and functional.

In that case, you may be able to obtain a design patent to prevent others from copying your design.

4. Use watermarks or digital rights management (DRM)

Homepage of watermarking your designs

If you're selling your designs online, using watermarks or digital rights management (DRM) is crucial to prevent unauthorized use or reproduction of your designs.

For example, if you're selling digital art prints, you may want to use a watermark to protect your design from being used without permission.

Watermark.ws is a great website that allows you to watermark your designs and other creative media to prevent infringement.

5. Look out for an infringement

It's essential to regularly monitor the market to ensure that your designs aren't being used or sold without permission.

One way to do that is via Pixsy.

Homepage of Pixsy

If you do discover infringement, take action immediately to protect your intellectual property rights!

For example, if you see a competitor selling a t-shirt with your design, you may need to send a cease and desist letter or take legal action to prevent further infringement.

Summary

Reading and absorbing information and knowledge is excellent (definitely if it's free!), but do you know what's even better?

Taking action!

So, to help you with taking action with what you have learned in this article, take a look at the bullet points:

  • For a print on demand business, intellectual property (IP) is a person or company's rights in their creative works, such as designs, artwork, and other content they create or own.
  • Copyright protection gives the owner of the exclusive work rights to reproduce, distribute, display, and create derivative works based on the original work.
  • Copyright ownership is automatically granted to the creator of an original work when it's created.
  • Trademark law often protects a logo or brand name. This gives the owner of the exclusive trademark rights to use the mark in connection with their goods or services and to prevent others from using the same or similar effect in a way that could confuse consumers.
  • The purpose of a patent is to protect an inventor's intellectual property and prevent others from making, using, or selling the same invention without permission.

Conclusion

Protecting your designs is essential to running a successful print on demand business. By taking the necessary steps to protect your designs, you can prevent unauthorized use and ensure that you are the only one profiting from your creations.

Some key measures you can take include registering your designs with the appropriate authorities and using watermarks and copyright notices.

With these precautions, you can have greater peace of mind and focus on growing your business and sharing your designs with the world.

Remember, your designs are your intellectual property; protecting them is essential to your success as a POD store owner.

Thank you for reading, and have a great day!

Want to learn more about print on demand?

Ready to move your print on demand store to the next level? Check out the articles below:

Plus, don't forget to check out our in-depth how to start a print on demand business guide here!

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