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Guitar design patent and copyright  

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Hello Peeps,

Does anyone know if you can patent or copyright your guitar design such as the body shape or headstock shape or even the name of your guitar. I have heard Mark say that if you can show three different aspects that distinguishes your design from someone else's then it's okay to build something similar. There are so many shapes that have already been done that it's virtually impossible to come up with a new idea that works. 🤔 

🎸🎶🙏🙂

🗝️ "Life's what you make it"🗝️

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I don’t know about this at all Russ but I would like to know too. You are right that designing an original shape is so difficult these days, there are so many mods on old, classic shapes it’s unreal. It will be interesting to hear if anyone else here knows the ins and outs of this topic. Sorry I can’t be any help with this right now. 

This post was modified 3 months ago by Boo

Online guitar making courses – guitarmaking.co.uk

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@russ

About two years ago I think Gibson started legal proceedings in the USA against firms who were making Les Paul copies, alleging that the body shape is their distinctive design and was subject to copyright. I haven't heard any more about the case but it's bound to be on line somewhere.

Any new design or invention can be subject to a patent application but I think the process is long and expensive - it involves an investigation to see if anyone has done it before. Probably wouldn't be cost effective unless you thought of some revolutionary design that would sell lots.

I've seen lots of body variations including bodies like a chess board, bodies with coloured Popsicle sticks, bodies with intricate oriental carving but in the end it's how it plays and sounds that is important.

A new type of sound is more likely to be a big seller e.g. Roger McGuinn has a unique sound that he and the makers have refused to release details of. Commercial electronics are often a compromise between  studio quality low noise and live performance high output, so lots of room to customise a product.

Don’t call us we’ll call you

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Topic starter

I've looked into it a wee bit further. It's all a bit vague but it seems that Fender and Gibson failed to copyright their body shape but have managed to copyright their headstock shape. I also saw that PRS failed to copyright their headstock shape but that  Music Man have copyright on the 4-2 Machine Head setup. All seems a bit random. 🤔 

🎸🙂🎶🙏

🗝️ "Life's what you make it"🗝️

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@russ

Thanks for doing this research. I'm planning to build a Fender and a Les Paul style sometime this year, or make a start anyway, so this gives me a clue that it's the headstock shapes that I will have to alter to avoid copyright issues. 

Don’t call us we’ll call you

Only if you plan to sell them!

Matt Beels
Good point I can't see big firms going after a guy building in the garden shed for himself

No, if for yourself or friends you‘ll be fine. You could actually build exact copies and sell them until the big guys noticed, and they wouldn’t until you were rather big selling lots of them! Even still I think it’s better to personalize them, especially the headstock as to me, that’s the sign of the maker.

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You can copyright your design but here in the UK it is cost prohibitive and my understanding is that it does not help outside the UK so there are hardly any examples of this happening.

Measure twice, cut once...

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Topic starter

Thanks @markbailey @boo @rocknroller912 @mattbeels. I was hoping that sometime in the future I could build a guitar with the 4-2 machine head setup but if music man have this copyrighted will that stop me doing it?

🤔

🗝️ "Life's what you make it"🗝️

It's a registered trademark and they enforce it.
You might go under the radar if you were just building for yourself, but having read the response of Sterling Ball to a question about it on their forum, I'd stay away. He seems pretty determined to enforce it.

@Jonathan Hodgson do you mean that MM has a copyright on the 4x2 configuration or their headstock shape? I’m currently designing a headstock with a 4x2 (opposite of theirs plus different shape) and I would be gutted to find out that I couldn’t make it, gulp...

Not copyright, trademark.
And it's the arrangement of the tuning pegs.
I don't know how specific the protection is, that's probably down to a court to decide. I do know that in every ernie ball forum thread I've looked at on the subject Sterling Ball is very clear that they have a trademark on 4+2 headstocks and they will enforce it.
http://tmsearch.uspto.gov/bin/showfield?f=doc&state=4804:3oxh4t.6.57

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It's a mystery to me why so many musicians don't understand copyright. It is not possible to copyright anything, it's not a process, it's a statutory right. Things that are subject to copyright are protected from the moment of their inception, what most people refer to as "copyrighting" something is just a way of recording that it was you that created the work. They're registering the copyright, not creating it. The poor mans version used to be to mail a copy to yourself registered post and never open it until it got to court (thus proving you had it on or before the date on the postmark). That's not advised these days (too easy to fake, so not strong evidence).

Copyright doesn't apply to physical designs either (it's basically about media works like books, music, and software), but there is something similar called design rights, more on that in a moment.

Patents require an invention, look doesn't matter, they are about how things function.

There ARE some protections available for the aesthetic of designs, especially ones that are iconic. Fender has established trademark protection for its headstocks for example, but the court refused them trademark protection for their body shapes on the basis that they were functional shapes. Net result is you see a lot of companies making straight up copies of Strat and Tele bodies, but the headstocks are different (a few companies like Warmoth have licenses to produce Fender headstocks).

As a little guy I would imagine that your best first stop for protecting your work, if it is original enough, is design rights. They are like copyright in that they exist from inception.

https://www.clarkewillmott.com/legal-services/intellectual-property-lawyers/design-rights/

 

 

That’s very interesting, thanks for your input Jonathan. 👍

Yeah that’s cuz we’re just lowly musicians (and budding guitar builders) who just want to fookin‘rawk!!! 😂
But yeah I hear you...

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Topic starter

I've found this thread. Still not sure what is the truth.

https://www.tdpri.com/threads/ernie-ball-music-man-trademark.390923/  

🤔🎸🎶🙏

🗝️ "Life's what you make it"🗝️

@russ

Following your link, I found this link that shows that MusicMan does have a 4+2 headstock image trademarked and renewed last year.

https://tsdr.uspto.gov/#caseNumber=74044289&caseType=SERIAL_NO&searchType=statusSearch

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One thing I have learned today is that Ernie Ball trademarked the phrase
"My guitar can kick you guitar's ass"
(The trademark is now dead, so you don't need to worry about a cease and decist letter from their lawyers if you use it).

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Topic starter

@robin

Thanks for that Robin. Do you know if it's just for that design or is it for any 4-2 headstock even if it has a completely different shape? The machine heads have to go where the strings are. I imagine that all six in a row headstock designs have to have the machine heads in the same place no matter what shape the headstock is. Even 3-3 are limited to where the machine heads go to some degree. What I guess I'm trying to say is how can anyone claim to dictate where you can put your machine heads on your headstock no matter what design you choose. 🤔 We need a very generous lawyer to challenge it in the courts for all guitar makers around the world. 😁

🙂🎶🎸🙏

🗝️ "Life's what you make it"🗝️

@russ
Here's the image of what is trademarked and some of the text. My take on the disclaimer is that its the post positions that are relevant, regardless of the headstock shape. Personally, if I wanted to build a 4+2 for myself, I wouldn't be losing any sleep over it.

Screenshot 20210203 233709 Samsung Internet
Screenshot 20210203 233709 Samsung Internet
Screenshot 20210203 233946 Samsung Internet

Ok, it’s rather clear. They have trademarked 4 over 2. I want to do 2 over 4 so, 👍.
Just so long as Caparison hasn’t trademarked that😂

Caparison have trademarked the shape of their headstock, but not the tuner arrangement.
This stuff really is a minefield!

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They have two trademarks (well lots, but two we care about), one is for the shape, the other is specifically for the 4+2 arrangement, quoting from it

"THE MARK COMPRISES THE ARRANGEMENT OF THE INSTRUMENT STRING POSTS AND TUNING KEYS, THE HEAD OF THE INSTRUMENT BEING SHOWN IN PHANTOM TO IDENTIFY THE LOCATION OF THE STRING POSTS AND TUNING KEYS."

Looking at information on the WIPO site it seems they issued a number of notices to sue over the years, including to Warmoth (who don't now supply 4+2, so it looks like they either lost or settled) and Thin the Herd guitars (who intriguingly have a 4+2 still advertised on their website, but marked as out of stock, so I don't know what the outcome was there).

There are a couple of manufacturers who have a 2+4 arrangement, Brian Moore still seems to sell guitars with that setup.

 

 

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Topic starter

I'm a huge Leo Fender fan. I love his Fender and Music Man designs. That's why I'd like to try and emulate his styles without making exact copies of his designs but I do have trouble accepting that someone can dictate where you can place the tuners on a headstock. 😕🤔 

🙂🙏🎶🎸

🗝️ "Life's what you make it"🗝️

I'll agree with you, and there may be a legal argument that it's a functional decision and not really a brand identifier. I don't know if that argument has ever gone to court, or if other companies have just settled out of court.
The Fender headstock/body shape stuff did go through court, there's a video from Warmoth where the guy goes through the history of that.
PRS have trademarked everything they can, including the cutout scoop!

https://www.prsguitars.com/copyright

Though it seems their headstock shape has been refused trademark protection in Europe, and with the number of straight up PRS body copies out there I'm not sure they've got protection for that worldwide either.

https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=21b972f2-b46a-4461-a50f-786e3e23f3df

Did you know that G&L had to stop putting "Designed by Leo Fender" on their guitars, despite it being a factual statement, because Fender guitars have the right to the Fender name?

Yeah, didn’t they go with "Guitars designed by Leo” or something like that?

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Topic starter

Thanks @jonhodgson. All interesting stuff. ✌️ 

🎸🎶🙏🙂

 

🗝️ "Life's what you make it"🗝️

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If you are building a guitar for your own use, which will subsequently be passed down through your family, then you can make the most accurate copy of any guitar you like without any fear of prosecution so long as you, or your heirs, don’t publicise it, try to sell it and/or pass it it off as an original. In the same way, you can sit at home and paint yourself a copy of the Mona Lisa, should the mood take you, but just don’t stick it on EBay claiming it to be the original on which Leonardo based his inferior copy!

You can register a design in the UK for a relatively modest sum but this isn’t the same as a patent which can cost many thousands, and more likely hundreds of thousands of pounds, to file and maintain. Unless your invention is worth an absolute stack of cash, and you have the money to apply for and defend them, then patents aren’t a simple or viable option for protection. A friend of mine, who did come up with a patent worthy product, ended up selling three or four of his rental properties in order to fund the applications. If you do come up with something worthy of patent protection, and you’ve got the houses to pay for it, don’t let anybody, other than your patent lawyer, see it unless they have signed a NDA (non-disclosure agreement) otherwise they could challenge that the invention had passed into the ‘public domain’ and therefore be unpatentable.

My understanding is that if the functionality of your product is reliant on an obvious visual aspect of the design then this can be registered and offer at least partial protection from casual commercial copying if the copy would have to look similar to the original to achieve the same functionality. This was the basis on which I registered the design of my fret slotting jig, with the multiple rows of registration holes on the template and the 6 pin position holes in the jig forming the key elements. I am happy for anybody to make copies for their own use based on this design but I would be less keen for one of the big guitar making suppliers to start selling something that looked very similar for commercial gain. Maybe it’s just a vanity thing, but I did get a nice certificate to hang on my wall!

It can just end up being a fight in the courts decided by who has the most money. A number of years ago a kitchen company somehow managed to register a specific radius of 90° cupboard door and entered into several court battles to prevent others from using it. I have no idea how this got though as I can see no way that the company in question could show that the adoption of any given radius was a novel innovation or one which had not been, or could not have been, in common usage prior to their application. Certainly, the hoops I had to jump through with the fret slotting jig would suggest to me that registering a radius should have been extremely problematic if not impossible. It’s a bit like registering a length to prevent anyone else from selling anything that is 250mm long! Is simply putting two tuners on one side and four on the other such a radical idea that it could be protected? I wouldn’t have thought so unless it was also linked to novel headstock design. Simply claiming the 2+4 thing as your own, regardless of other design elements, strikes me as just too broad a claim but it would take someone with cash to challenge it.

Anyone up for the fight?

Cheers

Darren

 

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