Right before the New Year, the New York Times wrote an extensive article about Mickey Mouse and how the copyright for the historic Steamboat Willie will most likely expire at the end of 2023.
When that happens, the Steamboat Willie version of Mickey Mouse will become public domain, meaning anyone can use that version of the cartoon character and the film without paying any licensing fees.
Of course, nothing is settled in stone. The last time this issue came up, the Walt Disney Company worked with Congress to extend copyright protections by 20 years.
Most businesses cannot just convince Congress to change the rules on copyrights. So, this is a great case to watch as this issue unfolds. It is a good way to understand how people can and cannot use your logo, your graphics, your mascot, your company name.
And it is a great reminder to check with The Orlando Law Group for a review of all your intellectual property has the right protections to keep your brand pure.
The Orlando Law Group can help entrepreneurs and business owners in in Orlando, Waterford Lakes, Altamonte Springs, Winter Garden, Sanford, Lake Nona, St. Cloud, Kissimmee, and throughout Central Florida with all their intellectual property issues, along with any other general business issues.
Let us give a quick overview of intellectual property protections.
First, it is critical to understand the differences between the different types of intellectual property protections. They are often confused with each other, even though all of them can be critical for your long-term success.
For a more detailed look at the difference between trademark and copyright, please review this article we shared a few years ago.
A copyright protects first use of art
Maybe you wrote a jingle for your business or commissioned a painting of your restaurant. Maybe you created a cartoon character mascot. Those are all covered by copyright laws. They are original art and cannot be used by a third-party for profit.
When it is produced, there is a copyright applied, but you must register the copyright with the federal government for The Orlando Law Group to fight to receive any protection from the courts.
A patent protects an invention
If your company has developed the next big thing, you will need to file for a patent. This protects your product, your chemical reaction, your advancement on the widget and much more. To receive a patent, you will need to show that your invention is “new, unique and usable.”
A trademark protects your brand
Here is where you protect your name and your logo, your company colors and more. The goal with this type of protection is to avoid confusion by consumers and eliminate companies basically calling themselves the same name.
One of the difficulties with trademarks is there are two types of trademarks: word marks and design marks. The word mark protects your name. The design mark protects your logo. Both can be essential.
What do I need to do to protect my brand?
There are a couple of things you can do to protect your brand, especially when you are first starting your business. One of the things we do for any new business is do a search for trademarks, especially when naming restaurants.
The United States Patent and Trademark Office makes a basic search relatively simple through the TESS database. Performing an individual search can give you basic information, but it is still critical to have an attorney review the results. After all, there are 35-word marks for “Mickey Mouse.” Not all will apply to you and there may be an opportunity for you to use your dream name, even if it appears in TESS.
Of course, if your name is already trademarked in your industry, do not use it. Chances are, you will have to rename your business down the road.
Once you have applied, it is important to aggressively defend your protection. Often times, a simple demand letter can stop the possible infringement. Sometimes you will need to file a lawsuit for protection.
The key here is that you are showing others – especially future courts – this is your brand and you will protect it. The longer you allow others to use your brand, the easier it is for that person to claim it is in the public interest.
You do not want that to happen!
That is why you see so many companies being very active in protecting their trademarks. Just look up “trademark lawsuit” by just about any company and you will find multiple news reports of lawsuits.
Of course, this also means that if you want to get close to an established trademark, you are going to be prepared for a fight. Here is an example of where Apple sued just about anyone who tried to file a trademark using an apple. In fact, they filed objections to 215 trademark filings that were close to the logo of the iPhone.
They are counting on people not fighting back.
But that is what The Orlando Law Group is here for. We will fight to protect your company’s intellectual property, from filing for protection and to protect your brand.
And if you want to use Steamboat Willie in your 2024 marketing campaign within the legal format, we will fight for your right to do just that!
If you are looking to protect your intellectual property in Orlando, Waterford Lakes, Altamonte Springs, Winter Garden, Sanford, Lake Nona, St. Cloud, or Kissimmee, we are here to help you with a full team of attorneys who care about you and your business and will work for the best possible outcome.
If you would like to schedule a consultation for a business issue like the ones described earlier, this information is in case you ever find yourself or a loved one needing to use it.
If you have questions about anything discussed in this article or other legal matters, give our office a call at 407-512-4394 or fill out our online contact form to schedule a consultation to discuss your case. We have an office conveniently located at 12301 Lake Underhill Rd, Suite 213, Orlando, FL 32828, as well as offices in Seminole, Osceola and West Orange counties to assist you.
The articles on this blog are for informative purposes only and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our law firm directly.