Protecting Jewelry Designs

Sales of Jewelry have been soaring over the past decade, with worldwide sales in 2016 totaling over US$300 billion dollars.  Helped by instant world-wide access provided by Social Media, many jewelry designers have found themselves on the short end of the stick when their designs are pilfered.  This article addresses various intellectual property tools that can protect jewelry designs.

Patents (utility and design) can protect functional, as well as aesthetic aspects of jewelry designs.  A utility patent protects novel and non-obvious aspects of jewelry designs; i.e., how a jewelry item is made, is used, its function or structure.  Various aspects of jewelry and accessory designs may be protectable by utility patents.  For e.g., a multi piece jewelry may be eligible for utility patent protection for the way the pieces are put together; an ear-ring design may be patentable for the way it is clipped on.  Utility patents are hardest to get, but provide the owner with the broadest and most effective type of protection.  Design patents can protect non-functional aesthetic and decorative aspects of jewelry items.  New Jewelry designs are frequently protected by design patents.  A key to obtaining patent protection is to not disclose the design to the public until the patent application has been filed.  That means the inventor can’t post the design on its website, display it in public, sell or even offer it for sale until the patent application is filed.  Premature disclosure will result in almost complete loss of International rights.  In the U.S. the inventor has one year from the date of a disclosure to file for a patent.  However, if someone independently comes up with the invention and files for a patent before the inventor does, then the U.S. rights will be gone as well.

Copyright protects “original works of authorship”.  As such, a jewelry design, provided that it is sufficiently creative, it is eligible for copyright protection.  Unlike patents, copyrights are not lost by premature disclosure.  Rather, copyrights are attached to the work as soon as the work is created.  However, timely registration (i.e., within three months of publication) results in big advantages to the copyright holder in the event of litigation for copyright infringement, including the right to seek statutory damages of up to $150K and attorney’s fees.   Copyrights are the most popular method of protecting jewelry designs.

Trademark acts as a source identifier for products and services it is used with.  In the case of Jewelry designs, trademarks are most often used as an identifying name or logo.  However, in certain circumstances, the very design itself can be a source identifier as a trade dress.  As with copyright, trademarks need not be registered to be valid; however, registration gives owner more robust and complete rights, including the right to seek statutory damages of up to $2M plus attorneys fees in an infringement litigation.

Awareness of the potentials for protecting Jewelry designs provides manufacturers and designers with a powerful tool to maximize the benefits from their designs.

© 2017 Dr. Dariush Adli