With the 4th of July just around the corner, the night sky will soon begin to show the patriotic red, white, and blue. On Saturday, American’s around the country will commemorate the Declaration of Independence in which the Continental Congress declared that the American colonies were free of King George III’s control and no longer British subjects.
Each year, both public and private firework displays become increasingly more complex, advanced, and memorizing. Originally invented in China, fireworks have been the subject of various forms of intellectual property protection—including patents, copyrights, and trademarks.
In general, patent protection is afforded to anyone who invents a novel and non-obvious invention. In particular, one of the very first firework patents in the United States was awarded in 1899 to Mr. Albert J. Lutz of New York. The invention was entitled TOY FIREWORKS which exhibited pyrotechnic effects in a rotary manner that resembles pin or catharine wheels.
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Copyright protection extends to original works of authorship that are fixed in a tangible medium. In the case of pyrotechnic displays, copyright protection is typically achieved when the firework shows viewers take their own photographs or recordings of the show. In this case, the photos or recordings taken may have copyrightable elements. However, the fireworks themselves would likely not be afforded copyright protection as they are not fixed in a “tangible medium” that can be “perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated for a period of time of more than a transitionary duration.”
Another form of intellectual property that fireworks can fall under is trademark law. Trademarks are a word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that serves to identify and distinguish the goods of one from those of another. In the context of fireworks, companies that manufacture and sell fireworks can be afforded trademark protection in their brand name and even the individual product lines and products themselves.
For example, the famous BLACK CAT design serves to distinguish the “detonating fireworks” of Li & Fung Limited from those of other brands, such as EXCALIBUR—a popular fireworks manufacturer who sells artillery shell kits.
No matter where you look into the night sky this July 4th, you are bound not only to see some incredible displays but also feel the thunder of the fireworks boom. Next time you raise your phone to capture the nighttime performance, remember the intellectual property rights you are creating in that moment and the various other intellectual property protections that helped create the magical show.