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Are Templates And Forms Protected Under Copyright Law?

Here is a common question I get from clients: I invented a new type of diagram design related to social sciences. How can I legally prevent anyone else from teaching and displaying my diagram? Let’s say I was the first to invent the Venn diagram. Can I obtain a copyright or a patent prevent anyone from using or displaying it?

You are right to gather that the law surrounding copyrights of diagrams is difficult to generalize. Typically, a “template” or “fill-in-the-blank” diagram is not copyrightable. So a “Venn Diagram” man not be protected by copyright law, since it can be regarded to as a ‘template’.

When a completed diagram (e.g., on that is ‘filled-in’) is copied, as a whole, without much ‘transformation’, it may be considered a copyright infringement. The extent of transformation required relative to the original work is typically assessed on a case-by-case basis.

In general, blank-forms or templates are not considered a work of authorship sufficient for copyright protection. This is because such templates/forms reflect general IDEAS. Ideas are not copyrightable. Rather the Expression of the Idea is copyrightable. Your words/illustrations/creations used to bring an Idea to life are considered the copyrightable expression. This is why, in general, blank forms are not protectable under copyright law whereas completed-filled-in forms would be protectable.

If you are interested in more detail related to your situation it is best to speak with an attorney.

Yuri Eliezer heads the intellectual property practice group at Founders Legal. As an entrepreneur who saw the importance of early-stage patent protection, Yuri founded SmartUp®. Clients he has served include Microsoft, Cisco, Cox, AT&T, General Electric, the Georgia Institute of Technology, and Coca-Cola.

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