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Who owns the rights to a point-of-purchase design?

According to copyright law, point-of-purchase designs are the intellectual property of the producer/supplier who designs it, not the client or retailer who uses it, said Stephen R. Bergerson, partner at Fredrikson & Byron, Minneapolis.

Mr. Bergerson gave that advice last week to an audience of about 190 people at a Milwaukee seminar sponsored by the Point-of-Purchase Advertising Institute.

The seminar was sponsored as part of an ongoing effort by POPAI to raise industry practices and standards, starting with intellectual property ownership.

"The point-of-purchase business for so long has been viewed as a commodity versus a mixed medium," said Dick Blatt, executive director of POPAI. "Creative ideas are bid out for best price and in that process lies our problems."

In September, the trade organization made up of producer/suppliers, brand marketers and retailers plans to publish a white paper, or guide for the industry, on the issue of intellectual property ownership, recommending that producer/suppliers of POP and clients need to have a document upfront before any expressions of ideas are brought to life.

Also, POPAI is working on a general code of ethics as well as a revised guide to trade practices.

Michael Lauber, CEO of Tusco Display, a producer/supplier in Gnadenhutten, Ohio, said he understood anything he invented relative to the POP industry was protected by patent law. But he didn't realize his ideas for a promotion were legally protected.

Instead, Mr. Lauber followed the customs that the industry set. In some instances, the producer/supplier would create the first run of a promotion and then the client would put it up for bid to everybody. In that way, the producer/supplier lost his rights to the creation, said Mr. Lauber.

For example, recently one of Mr. Lauber's brand marketer clients presented one of his promotional ideas to a retailer. The retailer told the brand marketer that if given the marketer's trade dollars, the retailer could have the promotion produced at a lesser cost. This left Mr. Lauber's company without a profit on a design that it legally owned. But, being a small company, Tusco might not be able to afford to fight this in the courts.

Mr. Lauber said that if POPAI can strengthen ethical practices and standards, that will improve the image of the industry.

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