Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Can you Trademark a Building?

Can you trademark a building?

       Unfortunately, the answer is yes.

Part of the advantage of the sign business is that any idea that someone has is publicly available.  You can't copyright the combination of purple and gold.  You can't trademark a sans serif font heading with Times New Roman font copy.

Signs don't do much good hidden, so learning how to design signs is an unfair advantage over other industries.  However, trademarks and branding are important and sometimes overlooked concerns when designing a sign.  Most logo designers have a moderate amount of care to not copy a brand.  However, there are cases where mistakes can be made.

The Space Needle is trademarked.  When I first heard this, I was amazed.  You can't copyright a building!  Unfortunately, you can.  There is even a category in the US Patent and Trademark Office design manual called '07.09.25--Other monuments, including Tombstones, totem poles, The Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Space Needle'

So much for being able to use 'public' buildings as designs!  Even an iconic landmark that is (in all Seattle-ites minds) directly linked with the city is off-limits.  It happens to be a private building on private land, built with private funds, and it is a privately held trademark. 

The moral of the story:  Before investing in a sign or brand, make sure the logo designer does due diligence on any logos which might already be trademarked.  Most of this is common-sense, but please let everyone you know that the Space Needle is trademarked.  This is an over 300' tall exception to the rule!

Unfortunately, the small business shown here was broadsided on this issue, without any warning.  After investing in signage, web-site, window graphics, interior décor, etc.  You would think the Space Needle would do more to let the design community know that they have a trademarked building, but alas, big corporations aren't always that community-friendly...

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