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Trademarks, copyrights, designs and patents… an overview

Today I’m excited to introduce a dear friend and super-smart law lady Nikola Errington to the guest blog. This week and next, Nikola is going to define for us in basic words some key legal terms that pertain to products and creative ideas. Take it away, Nikola!

Hi everyone – Tess has asked me to write a few words about some pertinent Intellectual Property terms that might pop up in the lives of those who mix in creative women’s circles. I’ll cover a few basics regarding trademarks, copyright, designs and patents, the major tenants of Intellectual Property law*.


Trademarks are distinctive words or symbols used to distinguish between goods and services. For example, “Frankie” on magazine publishing, or “Gorman” on clothing . 
This is as opposed to a trademark that is not distinctive, for example, if I name my new batch of home-made radios, “Radios”. No good. 
The theory behind trademark protection is essentially that consumers deserve not to be confused, so when given the choice between two radios, they should be able to identify the maker by use of a distinctive word or symbol. Australia has a trademark registration system, administered through IP Australia
It is not compulsory for you to register your trademarks, but it is a good idea. If you are successful at registering your trademark, it means that you have an exclusive right to use it. It means that no-one else can, and it also means that it has been determined that no-one registered it before you. 
With this in mind, it is really important that before you start using a trademark ie. whacking it on your new fashion line or opening a new shop, you should check out what trademarks are already registered. You can do this through IP Australia’s database search.


This is a legal protection for the expression of ideas. I want to emphasise that it is a protection for the expression of an idea, not your idea. 
For example, I had an idea that I would write a book about a girl who kicked a hornet’s nest when I was twelve years old, but I did not write said book. I therefore have no claim that my copyright was breached following the publication of The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest, (unfortunately). 
Copyright protection is afforded to paintings, drawings, books or something that could be defined as a “works of art or literature”, music, films, sound recording, broadcasts and computer programs. 
Copyright is not registered like trademarks, designs or patents, rather it is a right that arises as soon as it comes into existence ie. the comic is drawn, or the film script is typed up. If I had written my idea down for the girl and hornet’s nest story down in 1993, maybe I would be in a different position right now…
Next week, I’ll define the terms Design and Patent. See you back here next Monday!

*Note that this is simply an explanation of a few key terms and should not be substituted for professional legal advice

Posted by: Tess McCabe
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