Thursday, September 26, 2013

Wants to Protect Magnetic Jewelry

Dear Rich:  I'm looking to launch a jewelry line with modular magnetic pieces, where the owner can switch between different colors and designs for the same piece of jewelry. What I want to protect is not just one piece, but the entire magnetic mechanism at play. Does that qualify as "functional" and merit a design patent? Alternatively, if I file a copyright, could I then only pursue someone if they use that mechanism AND their jewelry is a copy of mine, or could I pursue as long as the mechanism is the same (even if their jewelry looks different)? Your copyright on your jewelry would not extend to any of its functional (magnetic mechanism) features. (Ditto if you were to obtain a trademark registration for the trade dress or brand name of jewelry.) The ways to protect functional features of your jewelry are as a utility patent (not a design patent) or to maintain the process as a trade secret (which seems like a challenge).
Utility patents. There are several patents for inventions involving magnets and jewelry. Here's a 2012 patent (Patent No. 8,209,824) for a magnetic clasp. Here's a 2003 patent (Patent No. 6,594,87) that provides for magnetic arrangement of jewelry elements. If you want to pursue a utility patent, your first step is to review the prior art for patents such as these and determine whether (1) your invention infringes any valid patents, and if not whether (2) your invention is novel and nonobvious. The second step is to determine whether your invention is commercial -- are the potential profits worth the potential patent costs? Also, keep in mind that a patent will take approximately two years to obtain and during that pendency period you can't stop those who copy the invention.

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