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What Makers Need to Know About Trademarks

Intellectual Property

In the U.S., more people than ever are starting their own businesses. For all the budding makers and entrepreneurs across the country and throughout the world, intellectual property (IP) knowledge is essential.


What Is Intellectual Property?

Defined as creations of the mind that are expressed in a sharable form or in ways that others can recreate, emulate or manufacture, IP is in everything from the music we listen to, to our morning coffee. Businesses and individuals can protect their IP with patents, copyrights, trade secrets and trademarks.

For small businesses, owning IP means having the ability to prevent other people or companies from marketing products that are identical or similar to their own products, brands or creations. However, the inverse is also true. For those interested in printing T-shirts or creating 3D-printed items, for instance, it is important to avoid violating the trademark protections owned by others.


Why Can’t Makers Use Their Favorite Team’s Logo?

As technology advances at an ever-increasing rate, equipment that was once only accessible to large companies or wealthy individuals can now be purchased by average consumers. Machines like the Silhouette and Cricut Maker® have become the stuff DIY dreams are made of, allowing creators to make precise cuts in everything from wood, fabric and paper to leather and vinyl.

Cutting machines like these allow for the reproduction of logos and personalized gear. However, it is illegal to create and sell handmade products that feature trademarked items like team logos or team names. The National Football League, for example, states:

“The NFL Marks include, among others, the NFL shield, the words SUPER BOWL and PRO BOWL, the Super Bowl and Pro Bowl logos, and the team names, nicknames, colors, symbols, emblems, helmet designs and uniform designs.”

Like many other large companies, the NFL requires those who want to sell merchandise with NFL trademarks to apply for a licensing agreement. Additionally, they require potential partners to pay upfront royalty fees (approximately $100,000,) have at least three years of business experience and have a commercial-grade insurance policy.

Those who create and sell products using NFL trademarked material without a licensing agreement will put themselves in legal jeopardy.

However, this does not mean the average sports fan is completely out of luck. Things like player numbers, the shape of a football, baseball or other sports ball, and other general imagery related to the sport in question are too general to have copyright protection and can be produced and sold without issue.


Learn More About Intellectual Property

To learn more about IP, we invite you to read more of the National Inventors Hall of Fame’s “Guide to Intellectual Property” series.

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