It has been a few years, but do you recall the beef surrounding Wal-Mart’s appliances being so cheap that some of them were hazardous to humans and the household in general? Such components as lead, toxin-laden plastics, and well, really no regard for the electrical standards use in, say the United States?
In the case imagine it is a toaster by a famous designer and it, therefore, represent a brand. And, those brands may be trademarked, and if a new type of toaster that utilizes special ceramic rather than coils, it could be the holder of a utility patent as well. When cheap knockoffs get sold as the real deal two things happen. The first is that it can damage the recognized brand while actually causing harm to people.
As it turns out if you flip over your toaster (over the garbage to catch the crumbs) you will find all kinds of patents etched into the bottom of it. Someone should be getting paid, because the design might be merely licensed for use.
How Does That Apply To Woodworking?
It turns out that some designs are the signature piece of an entire architect or designer’s livelihood. They have patents regarding design and parts they may have invented or improved upon sitting at the patent office.
If you are making one chair for your own use, then it may be a good exercise in learning how something operates, was made, and therefore designed. It might be the stuff of intellectual discovery that further develops your own new design ideas or Woodworking blueprints that one day you patent.
If you were to go to market with the copied furniture design, then it is illegal, depending how old the design is. If it is dealing with patented technology and design then you can be sued for infringement. Who knew you would have to retain a lawyer to make a dresser?
If you would like to make your own copy of a famous designer’s patented or copyrighted designs, that carry their own brand trademark to boot, you may have to ask their permission.
But, Really, Who Is Looking That Closely?
If you made the coolest desk ever, every time you go to the store you would look for it. Right? Well, the same kind of passion (and research ability) is what protects a brand. That means if you feel lucky and like you should just roll the dice and take your chances, think again.
You would have to deal with a lawsuit from the company that holds the patent. Even if you won, you would still have a lot of legal fees that may persist for years as you protect yourself.
Time Is On Your Side
Some may say that if you had just waited 14 years for the design patent to expire, you would have been in a good position to make those duplicates without a problem. Though if the patent holder had a special process that they had devised just for making the furniture, then you could fall into the problem of the utility patent.
This is effective for 20 years apparently. Once that period has passed, then you can freely reproduce a woodworking design without fear of getting into trouble.