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   Author  Topic: Drawings/Specs Protection  (Read 956 times)
jimmy neutron
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Drawings/Specs Protection
« on: Jan 17th, 2006, 9:20am »
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I build high end decks for a living.  A few times, I have gone to people, created drawing plans/blueprints for how a deck could look, only for the potential customer to say they no longer want the deck.  Shortly thereafter, I will see the deck just as I had planned, built by someone else. So basically they are stealing my plans and using them theirselves.   What kind of protection can I get.  
 
Can I register the specs for copyright protection, or is there not enough artistic value in them? What if my spec calls for a 24 ft deck with a bunch of bells and whistles, and they build a 25 foot deck with the same bells and whistles, the extra foot not making a material difference.
 
What if I just say something on the spec that says, "these specs are the property of my company, any use or reproduction without my permission is prohibited"?
 
Thanks.
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Isaac
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Re: Drawings/Specs Protection
« Reply #1 on: Jan 17th, 2006, 10:53am »
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I think there is a fairly high likelihood that you could register a copyright in your drawings/blueprints.  I'm not so sure that you could successfully and cost effectively prevent use copyright law to prevent someone from building a deck based on those plans.  
 
For example, a deck that has the same basic supporting system and size might not infringe your drawings.  It might even be possible to use your drawings to estimate the required materials without infringing the copyright.   Maybe some creative part of your work would be copied, but sorting it out might not be a slam dunk easy victory.    Probably a fairly fact specific inquiry.
 
Also, you have to register your copyrigbht before you sue, and you have to sue in federal court.   Small claims court or any other state court would not have jurisdiction over a copyright claim.  
 
If you are giving people copies of your plans to review, one thing you might consider as a minimum is to provide a copyright notice on your drawings (you don't need to register them first, copyright protection exists as soon as a creative work is fixed in a tangible medium such as paper or own a hard drive) along with an indication of what you rights you wish to reserve.   If your intent is that the drawings not be used to build a deck by others, you would want to tell your customer that and note it on the drawings.    If you can get your customer to sign an agreement before hand acknowledging such a limitation, that might be helpful in providing something you could pursue in small claims court, but I don't know your business well enough to say whether such a thing is feasible or would just scare off customers.
 
Of course you have to weigh whether it is best to just punt such loses.   If the design work is not really what you are selling, perhaps it is just part of the cost of quoting a job and you just have to eat the cost of the quote when you don't get the job.
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Isaac
jimmy neutron
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Re: Drawings/Specs Protection
« Reply #2 on: Jan 17th, 2006, 1:23pm »
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Thanks Issac,
 
I am intrigued by the idea of entering into a client with the customer for the specifications.  I assume the consideration for the specifications would be their agreeement to only use me for building of the deck according to the specifications.  This is a general law question, not intellectual property, but what would my damages be for breach of that contract, only my costs for creating the specifications, or my damages for not being able to build the deck?
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Isaac
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Re: Drawings/Specs Protection
« Reply #3 on: Jan 17th, 2006, 1:49pm »
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I wonder if trying to bind the client into using you before the customer has even seen the specs makes sense.   I was thinking more along the lines of client receives specs and quote in return for agreeing not to use your spec to build his deck without you.   The issue is really not a legal one, but a practical business one.
 
It might make sense to try to recover the cost of drawing up plans.   In the case of the contract you describe, you might theoretically be able to recover the profit you would have made from building the deck, but a contract like that might scare the customers.   You also have to consider the kind of word of mouth PR you get when you enforce these agreements.   It's kind of your call.
 
Again, I really don't know the deck building business at all.  I'm just throwing out some things to think about.   In any event, a copyright notice on your drawings seems to make sense even if you don't go to the point of registration or even the using a contract.
 
Maybe a consultation with a local attorney familiar with copyright law, contract law, and your business details might be worthwhile.
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Isaac
jimmy neutron
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Re: Drawings/Specs Protection
« Reply #4 on: Jan 17th, 2006, 2:08pm »
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I understand, but I am looking to protect myself as broadly but as cost effectively as possible.  
 
I know that the copyright notice and the threat of possible suit will often be enough, but I want to cover all of my bases.  I am not too worried about scaring away customers or getting a reputation as a stickler.
 
What about doing something I know nothing about, and considering the specifications as a trade secret, with limited disclosure to the customer.  That way if they disclose them to someone else, they would breach in some way.    
 
I am just concerned that the breach of contract solution would only get me back my costs in preparing the specs, not in what I would lose from not doing the deck.
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