Copyright for names, words, designs, products & inventions?
What is copyright?
Australian copyright provides intellectual property protection for certain ‘works’ such as texts, music, paintings and buildings. If the work qualifies, the protection is automatic (so there is no need to apply) and generally lasts until 70 years after the death of the person who created the work.
To qualify for protection, the work must be new and original and, even if a work qualifies, the protection is only against actual copying. It will not help if a competitor independently develops a similar name or product. There are also special exemptions to infringement that leave many innovators without effective protection.
Names and words
Australian copyright is unlikely to provide effective protection for names or words. As the Australian Copyright Council explains here:
‘Some things are too small or unoriginal to be protected by copyright. For example, single words (even invented words), names, titles, slogans and headlines are unlikely to be protected by copyright.’
Trade mark registration is usually the appropriate form of protection for names, words, brands and slogans etc.
Designs, products and/or inventions
Australian copyright is unlikely to provide effective protection for three-dimensional products that have been produced in commercial quantities.
Whilst in theory such products are covered by Australian copyright, a complex special exemption to infringement means that typically ‘it is not an infringement of that copyright to reproduce the work [i.e. to copy the product]’.
Patent and design registration are usually the appropriate forms of protection for three-dimensional products.
Patents can be used to stop others copying important functional details of new products. They last for up to 20 years.
Design registrations can be used to stop others copying the appearance of new products. In Australia, design registrations last for up to 10 years.