How to Check for Patents, Trademarks, and Copyrights
**Articled updated on 04/17/2021.
**Disclaimer: This blog post may contain affiliate links.
If you do a search on Etsy right now, for anything, there is more than likely a patent, trademark, or copyright on it. So how are some people able to get away with using those words, phrases, or products? They’re just not getting caught yet. Or some of them may have purchased the rights to sell the things they’re selling or they have a licensing agreement with the company that owns those rights. It’s expensive, but it’s possible. Here’s a quick tip, though: if it’s Disney, do not use it.
However, there are some ways around that and it’s called Public Domain. Disney does not necessarily own the rights to all of their beloved characters since many of their characters are “inspired by” classic characters that are now in the Public Domain. But, you still can’t use Disney’s versions of those characters. You can use some of their names (such as Cinderella and The Little Mermaid), but you can’t use Disney’s illustrations or images of those characters. Make sense?
If you ever have any doubts at all about using an image, logo, word, phrase, or saying, you can simply do an online search. For patents and trademarks, visit USPTO and for copyrights, visit this site. There is also a way to see if any of these items are in the Public Domain. Here are some websites that have characters and images that are in the Public Domain, free for personal or commercial use (none of these are affiliate links):
1.) Old Book Illustrations
2.) Public Domain Review
3.) The Graphics Fairy (clip art and vintage images)
4.) The Free Universe (features a list of Public Domain characters)
5.) Comic Vine (list of PD characters with photo examples)
6.) Public Domain Super Heroes (an extensive list of PD characters, not just superheroes)
You might also be asking, “what is the difference between trademarks and copyright?”. Well, here’s the answer: ‘Trademark law protects words, phrases, and symbols used to identify the source of the products or services (logos, company names, mottoes, etc). Copyright protects works of artistic expression from being copied (drawings, illustrations, books, etc).’ Here’s something else that may be of interest to you…
If you have any questions about anything you’ve just read (I know, it can be confusing), please do not hesitate to leave a comment below or contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org