I often get questions about trademarks & copyrights for Penny Portrait. As an artist and business owner, it’s important that I’m able to protect my work and insure that I’m in control of my brand.
Filing a copyright is extremely easy. To file a copyright on a single image made by myself such as the Penny Portrait image, I simply needed to pay $35 to the government and submit an image file to them online. You are then provided with a copyright verification number and it is listed online for all to see.
Here is a link to my copyright, registration # VA0001643737 / 2008-08-16
Why is this important? Well, not long ago shops started appearing on Amazon selling Penny Portrait Kits. These were not authorized vendors and had no way of actually acquiring Penny Portrait Kits to sell. They were either just going to take the money and run, or print a knockoff product of inferior quality. (As a side note, you know you’ve made it when folks overseas think your intellectual property is worth stealing!)
By providing my copyright info to Amazon, they were able to shut down these shops and stop them from listing a product they didn’t have. (The ensuing game of whack-a-mole, shutting down the same shop that would pop up with a different name each week, lasted for a few months.) I’m pleased to say they finally gave up however and the only listing on Amazon is now for genuine Penny Portrait Kits.
Tradmarks are a bit trickier. They cost significantly more with a $225 minimum. They are used to protect my company name/logo. Up until now, I had avoided getting a trademark as it was an unnecessary expense, but that is changing this week. You see Amazon will no longer let me edit the listing for my product unless I can prove I hold the trademark. It’s a bit of a headache, but I’m thinking I finally need to bite the bullet as Amazon’s retail team currently controls how my product is described and the images used in the listing and I’d like to fiddle with the title/description/images to make it a bit easier to find and see if I can improve sales.
As always dealing with the government is tricky. They are multiple types of trademark filing options. For example there is the “Trademark Plus” filing option and the “Trademark RF” (Reduced Fee) option. In typical government logic, the reduced fee option is actually more expensive than the “plus” listing ($275 vs. $225).
Another interesting bit of info is whether I should be using the TM symbol or the R with a circle around it. Ends up, anyone can use the TM symbol. It simply means that a term, slogan, logo or other indicator is being used as a trademark or is in the process of registration. It may not hold up in court however as the person claiming the trademark needs to prove they were the first to use it and that the person infringing on that trademark could cause confusion about the source of that product in the eyes of the public.
A registered trademark on the other hand indicates that the trademark has been registered with the USPTO (United States Patent and Trademark Office). This is a pretty big deal and, in court, you can be awarded triple damages if someone infringes upon your trademark. Unfortunately, it also takes a while to get… I won’t expect to hear back from the USPTO for at least 3 months and even then it could be much, much longer before it is approved. Alas, becoming a brand manager on Amazon may take a while…
All that said, expect to see a little “TM” next to the Penny Portrait name in the near future and hopefully a little R with a circle around it sometime next year.