Thursday, April 11, 2013

Sorry, You Can't Patent Cartoon Characters

Dear Rich: I would love to know more about patent drawing requirements. Well, first off my drawing in this case are cartoons characters which I would love to share around the internet but I am afraid that it will be easily stolen. Is it possible to patent cartoons for example, Mickey Mouse? If yes what should I do to achieve such actions and what documents are required? I'm interested in starting an online comic and my further plan is to sell some small merchandise into the market and therefore I will need such protection. We think you misunderstand the purpose of patent drawings. They're technical illustrations that explain how to make and use a patented innovation. So, they're not the right choice for protecting a cartoon character.*
How do most cartoonists protect their creations? Most cartoon characters are protected under copyright and trademark law (not patent law). Even though copyright is free and automatic, we still recommend copyright registration (online $35). Read more about copyright protection and registration for protecting cartoons and comic strips. You can also acquire trademark protection for your character. That provides exclusive rights to the character name, logo, and image on certain goods and services. Read more about trademark law, here. Keep in mind, no matter what laws protect your character, you can't prevent others from stealing it. These legal protections give you the basis - assuming you can afford it --  to chase, sue and recover from the wrongdoers.
* That Said Dept. Although there's no way you can obtain a utility patent for a cartoon character (utility patents only protect functional inventions), you can file a design patent, if, for example, your character is incorporated into the design of a lamp base. It's probably overkill in your situation because of the costs involved for filings (particularly if you are seeking expedited treatment). Copyright and trademark laws should provide equivalent or better protection.

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