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 signing of the Declaration of Independence. With the stroke of their pens, 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.

Patent Protection

Toy fireworks patent
U.S. Patent No. 638416 – Toy Fireworks

In general, anyone that invents a novel and non-obvious invention are capable of receiving patent protection. In particular, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) awarded one of the very first firework patents to Mr. Albert J. Lutz of New York in 1899. The invention is entitled TOY FIREWORKS and exhibits pyrotechnic effects in a rotary manner that is similar to pin or catharine wheels.

In the decades since, pyrotechnic inventions have evolved from simple toys into highly technical formulations. Some even having complicated launching mechanisms to display fireworks in precise patterns. Disney has several patents for its firework displays, including its PRECISION FIREWORKS DISPLAY SYSTEM HAVING A DECREASED ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT. The Disney patent launches pyrotechnics using compressed gas into the air, which then explodes in a magical pyrotechnic display.

Disney Fireworks
U.S. Patent No. 5339741 – Precision Fireworks Display System Having a Decreased Environmental Impact

Copyright Protection

Copyright protection is afforded to original works of authorship that are fixed in a tangible medium. When viewers of the shows capture their photographs or recordings, they receive some level of copyright protection. In such cases, the pictures or recordings have copyrightable elements. On-the-other-hand, the fireworks themselves do not have copyright elements. In particular, because fireworks are not fixed in a “tangible medium” that is “perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated” for more than “a transitionary duration,” copyright protection is not granted.

Trademark Protection

Another form of intellectual property that fireworks can fall under is trademark law. Trademarks are a word, phrase, symbol, or design that serves to distinguish the goods 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.

Black Cat Fireworks
Black Cat

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. EXCALIBUR is a popular fireworks manufacturer that sells artillery shell kits.

Conclusion

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.