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Graphic designers create artistic works for themselves and others. As a graphic designer, you will want to ensure that your work cannot be copied or used by others without your permission. You want to be sure you know who owns the intellectual property you create and when and how others can use it. There are various contracts and protections you can use to protect your intellectual property, including licence agreements or assignments. This article will specifically look at intellectual property for graphic designers and what steps you can take to protect your intellectual property in New Zealand.

1. Decide What Designs You Wish to Register

A registered design protects a:

  • shape;
  • configuration;
  • pattern; or
  • ornament added to an article by any industrial process or means.

As a graphic designer, you may be creating work that falls into this category, so it is useful to know about design rights. For example, if a client asks you to develop a design for their new product, you may register a design for the distinctive appearance of that product, which you may then sell or license to the client. Once you register a design as the owner, you can determine who can use or remake that design and profit from it. 

2. Prepare Your Design Registration Application

To register a design, it must be original and not disclosed in the public domain. This means that you (or someone else) cannot have published the design before applying to have it registered. You can apply to the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand (IPONZ) to register your design. IPONZ has an application form that you need to complete and submit online.

Additionally, you will need to prepare visual representations of your work. These are different perspectives of the design you wish to register from different angles. Representations need to be of good quality and A4-sized. They can come in various forms, like pictures or drawings. Your application will also need to include:

  • a title for the design. This cannot include pronouns or trade names; and
  • a statement of novelty, stating how the design is unique. Ensure it refers to the title of the design, features of the design and the representations you have provided. 

Once you have applied to register your design with IPONZ, their examiners will evaluate it, and you should hear back within 15 working days. If they raise issues with your application, you may be able to provide amendments to make for the design to be registrable. Design registrations are valid for 5 years, and then you need to renew them. 

3. Label Your Copyright

Copyright also protects artistic works, and is an automatic right. You can label your original work with the © symbol if it meets certain requirements. Copyright generally lasts for your lifetime plus 50 years, but this varies according to the kind of work the copyright applies to. 

Crucially, labelling your work with the © symbol tells others that your work is original and they cannot use it without your permission. Ensure that you keep a detailed record of the information surrounding your work, such as the date of creation. This process will make it easier to enforce your copyright if you think someone is infringing on your work. 

4. Draft Appropriate Legal Documents

Once you have appropriately identified your intellectual property and registered it if required, you will be able to determine who can use it or work with it. There are options available for you to do this without risking your intellectual property. These include drafting appropriate legal documents that bind those who use your intellectual property. These may include:

  • client agreements;
  • employment agreements;
  • website terms of use;
  • licence agreements; and
  • assignment agreements.

Many key legal documents will need dedicated intellectual property clauses to protect your intellectual property interests. For example, suppose you use your intellectual property on your website (such as logos or images of your designs). In that case, you will need to include a clause in your website terms of use detailing your intellectual property rights. 

5. Develop Appropriate Licence and Assignment Terms

A licence agreement allows someone else to use all or part of your intellectual property while you retain ownership rights. You can decide on licence agreement terms, such as:

  • how long they can use it for; 
  • how much they pay you for access; and  
  • where they can use it. 

Licence agreements can be complex, so it is best to seek legal advice when engaging in one. The table below sets out various kinds of licence agreements. 

Exclusive Licence Agreements

These allow only one other to use your intellectual property. You cannot use your intellectual property during this time.

Non-Exclusive Licence Agreements

These allow you to use your intellectual property, and let multiple others use it as well.

Sole Licence Agreements

These allow you and only one person to use your intellectual property.

If you do not need your intellectual property right anymore, an assignment is a binding legal document that changes your ownership rights. This means you sell or transfer your intellectual property ownership rights to another person or business. For a valid assignment, you must sign and date the assignment, and the new owner and any witnesses must do so as well.

Key Takeaways 

There are steps to take to protect your intellectual property as a graphic designer. In particular, you should consider copyright or design registration for your artistic works. Then, once you have identified and labelled your intellectual property, you may wish to regulate how others use and access it with appropriate legal documents. 

If you need help with protecting your intellectual property as a graphic designer, our experienced intellectual property lawyers can assist as part of our LegalVision membership. For a low monthly fee, you will have unlimited access to lawyers to answer your questions and draft and review your documents. Call us today on 0800 005 570 or visit our membership page.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does it cost to register a design?

It costs $100, plus GST, to apply to IPONZ to register your design. 

Can I still enforce copyright?

Yes, you can enforce copyright. However, it is best to seek legal advice if you think that somebody has infringed your copyright. 

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