Architects – A Legacy or an Eyesore
I was recently driving to Manhattan via New Jersey, ahead of me was the Manhattan skyline, what struck me were the recent additions to the skyline. Dominating over some of the more interesting and familiar building silhouettes were the new, towering rectangles devoid of any noticeable features or colors of interest. I am all about the beauty of buildings. I always marvel at a structure that enhances the observer’s daily routine. This observer was distraught by the visual afront the Manhattan skyline has taken.
Since I am in the business of intellectual property I began to think of how architects can protect their designs and structural innovations. I looked to see if one of my favorites, Frank Lloyd Wright, held any patents. I found the design patent pictured with this article, another for a desk, and a utility patent for structural glass.
Frank Lloyd Wright understood the value of protecting his innovative work. What should the architect and civil engineer of today do to protect their innovative designs and structures? One example, inventors Jeffrey Berkowitz, Bernardo Fort-Brescia, and Ronald Klemencic hold a design patent (US D908,917) and a utility patent (US patent 10,392,794) to the offset core of the structure of their new building. Both patents are owned by SkyRise Global, LLC. The subject building is currently under construction.
The Architectural Works Copyright Protection Act adds “architectural works” as a protected category of original expression. This extension of the law means that the “design of a building as embodied in any tangible medium of expression, including a building, architectural plans or drawings” is protected. The overall form of any permanent structure designed for human habitation, including the arrangement and composition of spaces and elements in the design, is subject to federal protection. In other words, a design cannot be reproduced or substantially copied even if the plans and specifications were never realized as a tangible structure. Without a patent or filed copyright, architectural works cannot be enforced against copycat works.
On June 5th, a New York-based federal appeals court tackled the tricky question of how to define originality in architecture, ruling against an architect who claimed two construction companies copied his designs for colonial homes. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a district court’s ruling that found James Zalewski, a New York architect, did not have his copyright infringed when the companies and their contractors constructed houses based on his designs, after the licenses he sold to the companies had expired. The defendants in the case included Rensselaer, N.Y.-based Cicero Builder and Albany, N.Y.-based T.P. Builders.
Attia v Society of the New York Hospital 201F.3d 50 presents another loss for the architect. Attia provided a series of drawings and sketches to New York Hospital for a renovation. Attia was not hired for the job but felt that New York hospital had used their copyrighted designs for the subsequent renovation. The court concluded that the drawings were preliminary, generalized, and at a very general level of abstraction.
In reviewing several other copyright infringement court cases, I have found the architects are not prevailing. What might the architect do to have their ideas better protected? I suggest, utilizing nondisclosure agreements together with patent and copyright filings before providing a client with design suggestions.
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