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who owns a design?3/13
OK, first time I've run into this situation. I've been commissioned to build a custom piece. We started the process looking at some images the client liked. Went back and forth for a bit, I started doing some sketches. I got some input, critiques from client. He put pencil to paper a couple times. Back and forth for about a month. Admittedly, he's been more hands on than most, but not enough to claim the design is his in my opinion.
I've completed a mockup, and a full size prototype, and am about to start building the real thing. Today I'm asked for my blessing to brand, market, and mass produce the piece he's designed...with my help of course. Compensation has been mentioned as well, but no specifics.
Its a nice piece, we are both excited about it. But how is it possible the customer thinks he owns the design? It was basically custom piece process as usual in my book. Custom work is usually a collaboration of sorts, but is the client due partial credit? I'm the one with a couple hundred hours in this designs evolution.
Would I like good marketing and promotion of the piece? Sure. I don't want to make thousands of them either. Its pretty complicated for a production piece. Is it better to have a contract for royalties from sales, or sell the design outright, or both? What's it worth? Anybody been down this road before?
Go to speak to a lawyer that specializes in intellectual property. They can at least advise you on 1. how to approach the subject of royalties, and or terms and how much to ask for! and 2. whether you have strong case proving that you own the rights.
Disclaimer: My post is not legal advice. I am not an attorney .
I would be inclined to say that YOU own the design. Legally there may not be much you can do if they decide to screw you over, but I would say that it is worth attempting to protect your interest in this situation.
If you create a work as an employee, your employer generally owns the rights.
However, if you contract a photographer for example, they traditionally retain the rights to the product of the photo shoot, unless it is specified that the rights will be assigned to someone else in the contract.
I can't offer much about information about design patents, because that is a can of worms I am not familiar with.
Technically copyright law affords some protection to sculpture, architecture, and there are even specific mentions to furniture, especially unique elements such as carvings, or turnings. Not so much for basic forms that are common. People are often not aware of this, but you can learn all sorts of interesting things if you actually read a law.
Also copyright is automatic (due upon creation)That however does not guarantee that you would be granted a registration which would likely be required to seek damages.
This protection is not nearly as explicit and routine as such for print works, music, photo/video, and other visual mediums. Basically this is getting into the realm, where you would need advice from a lawyer, on what may or may not apply in your situation, and whether you are in a position to do anything.
Good luck! I hope you make some money from this.
Have you, or did you specify payment for any design work on this project before it started? Do you have any kind of written contract? Without a written contract, it seems to be wide open to me. It will cost you for legal work to protect what you feel is your effort in the creation of the product. For any legal battle, you will need accurate documentation of events and design progression. Sounds like it will be an expensive lesson with no idea of monetary return.
I also think that you own the design. You are the professional, but I really don't think that you have anything to lose. Do you really think that this guy is going to have any success at marketing and mass producing the piece? He has no idea what he's getting into, and will either go broke trying, or give up before it goes anywhere.
I say keep excited, and keep the illusion of mutual interests going. As was mentioned earlier, you don't really have much to loose. If you were getting played from the beginning, then it was an expensive diversion for your client, aka import furniture guy. Don't concede any rights to the design; you were contracted to produce a piece, not to produce a design. The design is the tool that you use to produce the piece. For example, if you have to fab a jig, a special machine, or write a program in order to make a piece, then those are clearly things that do not pass on to the customer at the end of the project; the design is one of those things.
Thanks all for the input. I've had a conversation with the client, kept it upbeat and positive. We are both excited about the prospect, and on the same page. I'm sure I own the design, but I'm willing to share credit on it. Nothing to loose I guess, as long as the licensing agreement compensates us.
Send me a copy of the design and I'll uh... look it over for you. Yeah, that's right I'll uh... investigate it for you.