Can I protect a T-shirt design that has an acronym?

UPDATED: Oct 1, 2022

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Can I protect a T-shirt design that has an acronym?

Its an Ohio acronym in which the words shape
into the state of Ohio.

Asked on December 18, 2017 under Business Law, Ohio


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

As long as the "Ohio acronym in which the words shape into the state of Ohio" is original to you, you can copyright the image-plus-acronym or any original graphics on the shirt. The protection will be somewhat narrow (mostly against very close adaptation or copying), since copyright is more easily worked around than other intellectual property protection, but it is still protection and it is inexpensive and easy to get--basically, just put the "c in a circle" copyright symbol next to it and, if you see anyone copying it, take steps (e.g. a cease and desist letter; lawsuit, if necessary) to stop them. (You have to actively protect copyright and other intellectual property.) Copyright is available for any original text and/or graphics.
If the image, etc. is distinctive and not similar to what anyone else has, you may be able to trademarke it, too, which is broader protection, but harder to get (more requirements than copyright) and which generally requires registration and therefore costs around $1,000 - $1,500 with legal help, though could apply yourself, without an attorney, and knock the cost down to around $350 - $400. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has good information on its website about trademarks and the process of applying for them. Note that you have to actually be using the would-be-trademark in commerce (i.e. selling the shirts) or about to, with a *final* design, before you can trademark.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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