Monday, November 23, 2009

Project Iron Quilter

Dear Rich: Is it possible to somehow protect the name and/or concept of a competition I put together for my local quilt guild? I would like to protect it not to prevent others from putting on their own competition, but more to be certain no one else decides to copyright, trademark, or patent the concept/name and prevent our guild from using it again! Since the concept was inspired by two guilty pleasures of mine, "Project Runway" and "Iron Chef." I'm not certain "Project Iron Quilter" can be trade-marked, but wanted to find out and got very confused when I looked at all the websites that offer to 'guide' people through the process. Would it be possible to protect the concept given the similarities? The short answer -- and this is a bit of a Catch 22 -- is that the more you try to be proprietary about this competition, the more likely you are to attract problems which could end your own use.
Stopping Others From Using the Name. You might be able to register the trademark PROJECT IRON QUILT as a service mark since there are no substantially similar marks. Possibly the owners of the IRON CHEF mark may object (although we doubt it). The owners of the PROJECT RUNWAY mark may care more about it since quilts are closer to fashion than cooking. But even if you obtain the mark, that doesn't guarantee your use of the concept. 
Staying below the radar is better. Under various copyright (you're creating a derivative version) and unfair competition principles, the owners of the game shows may object to the borrowing of their formats for your purposes. (Reality shows are protective of their respective turfs.) Neither show may want to intrude on you if you're just running a charity benefit and raising money for cancer patients. But once you begin to claim IP real estate by registering the name or seeking other proprietary rights the shows may feel they have to react to preserve their property. That's why the Dear Rich Staff recommends you stay below the radar and enjoy your success without the paperwork.