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11 Surprising Copyrighted or Trademarked Phrases

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A trademarked or copyrighted phrase is a group of words that a person or company holds exclusive rights to, but there are some key differences between the two. Copyright registration, which is a way to protect an original work, began in the U.S. with the Copyright Act of 1790. A trademark is a way for a business or person to secure the rights to something that exists but already has pre-existing associations. For example, Donald Trump and Cardi B. have tried securing “you’re fired” and “okurr,” respectively, with trademarks. Those phrases already existed, and, in both instances, the powers that be did not see a strong case for either of the phrases to receive a trademark. 

Fantasy and science fiction authors like J.K. Rowling have copyrighted many phrases due to the way these writers invent new vocabulary and worlds. Rowling and her publisher sued a fan site in 2008 for trying to publish a book about the Harry Potter universe and won. The fansite had to alter the book but was able to publish a version of it in 2009. 

That said, copyright is a serious matter, but it’s also full of surprises. Turning words and ideas into property still seems strange, especially when the phrases in question are so commonplace. Let’s dive deeper into what copyrighted phrases are and review some of our favorites. 

How to Obtain a Trademark or Copyright

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Before we get into the surprising phrases that are either copyrighted or trademarked, let’s look at how you secure a copyright.  Perhaps surprisingly, it can be done from home. Over on copyright.gov , run by the U.S. Government’s Copyright Office, it’s never been easier to apply for copyright. On the website anyone can submit a proposal for a copyrighted phrase and it provides information on laws and regulations. 

Trademarked phrases require a separate department, the U.S. Department of Patents and Trademarks, and process. Their website has guidelines for registering a trademark and other important policies. Additionally, both departments allow you to search the copyright and trademark records.With that said, here are 11 surprising copyrighted or trademarked phrased. 

1. “That’s Hot.” | Trademarked by Paris Hilton

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On T he Simple Life , Paris Hilton was known for saying this iconic catchphrase. The heiress used the saying with the many people she met while exploring rural life with co-star Nicole Richie. The iconic duo spent much of The Simple Life developing their own slang terms. Truly sliving!

2. “The North remembers.” | Copyrighted and trademarked by “Game of Thrones” author George R. R. Martin

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Like J.K. Rowling, George R.R. Martin invented a fantasy world that nearly defined the early 2010s for many people. All quotes from the book are protected by copyright and other phrases and visual likenesses from the HBO adaptation are protected by trademark. 

3. “Let’s Get Ready to Rumble!” | Trademarked by Michael Buffer

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Michael Buffer coined this term while working as an announcer for boxing matches and it soon became wildly popular. Buffer has also been booked to set the scene and say his famous phrase at other sporting events and in movies like Rocky . 

4. “Hakuna Matata.” | Trademarked by Disney

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Disney may own more intellectual property than any other entity on Earth. For example, Disney currently has the phrase “Hakuna Matata” trademarked, which has understandably upset Swahili people and their anti-colonial allies.  

This isn’t the first time Disney has been accused of going too far. In 2013, Disney attempted to trademark Day of the Dead , but since Día de Los Muertos is a widely celebrated holiday, even “the mouse” can’t trademark it. 

5. “Just a kid from Akron.” | Trademarked by LeBron James

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You may recognize this quote from Space Jam 2 , but the elite athlete has been saying that phrase for years. LeBron James went straight from high school basketball to the NBA, and his hometown has been a presence throughout his journey. 

James spends much of his time giving back to the community he came from; you can even get this phrase on a t-shirt that benefits his foundation. There are a lot of other shirts out there with this saying, but, due to trademark laws, James could take those makers to court. 

6. “BAM!” | Trademarked by Emeril Lagasse

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What a throwback! Celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse started saying “BAM!” while filming Emeril: Live in 1997. Lagasse began saying the phrase to keep his crew awake during long days of filming, but it quickly caught on as a popular exclamation beyond the cooking world. The phrase was unique enough and used so widely that Lagasse was approved for a trademark. 

7. “This Sick beat”, “Party Like It’s 1989”, & “’Cause We Never Go Out of Style”. | Trademarked by Taylor Swift

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Taylor Swift is no stranger to controversy and we love her for that . It’s okay to say these phrases out loud, but putting them on t-shirts, guitar straps or other merchandise could “go down in flames,” as Swift would say. “Taylor’s Version” was trademarked recently, so she and her team are on their A-game!

8. “It’s on like Donkey Kong.” | Trademarked by Nintendo

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As the creators of Donkey Kong, who is more than 40 years old at this point , Nintendo has the rights to this popular phrase. Replicating the likeness of Donkey Kong could also put someone in hot water. 

9. The word “Superhero.” | Co-owned by DC and Marvel

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It’s rare to see Marvel and DC playing nicely together, but the two titans of the comic-book industry both care deeply for their intellectual property. There haven’t been any noteworthy cases of Marvel or DC pursuing legal action against anybody for the use of “Superhero” or its variations, so this trademark is more like an animal marking their territory. 

10. “I Pity the Fool.” | Trademarked by Mister T. 

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People have been repeating Laurence Tureaud’s catchphrases since his run on The A-Team in the 1980s. The phrase was not trademarked until 2011, which is not very aggressive compared to some of these other phrases on this list that were trademarked right away. Strangely enough, the stage name “Mister T.” is not trademarked… at least not yet. 

11. “May the Force Be With You.” | Copyrighted and trademarked by George Lucas, Lucasfilm & (now) Disney

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Even prior to being purchased by Disney, Star Wars has been controversial in the trademark landscape. “May the Force Be With You” has been protected by copyright since 1977 . Only gaining momentum since then, Star Wars has become quite the copyright empire. Terms like “Jedi”, “Yoda”, “wookies”, “ewoks”, “lightsabers”, “Darth Vader” and (many) more are all trademarked in some way.


assign a copyright

Understanding an assignment of copyright agreement

Did you know you can assign, or transfer, your copyright to someone? Find out what information to include in your agreement and how you can make sure your interests are protected.

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assign a copyright

updated September 1, 2023 · 3min read

Assignment of copyright

Copyright assignment contract, protecting the creator of the intellectual property, works for hire and copyright.

When you create intellectual property such as a book, poem, song, photograph, or painting, copyright laws give you the right to claim ownership of your creative work. Registering your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office allows others to find out who owns the rights to your creation. As a copyright owner, you can also transfer, or assign, your copyright, as long as you follow the correct procedure.

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Copyright assignment permits a third party, known as the assignee, to take ownership of the copyright from the owner, or assignor. The assignment must be done in writing to be valid. Although notarization isn't required, it's a good idea to have someone witness the assignor and assignee signing and dating the agreement. Transfer of ownership usually involves monetary exchange, although that's not a requirement.

Registering a copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office isn't a requirement for valid ownership, even in cases of copyright assignment. However, registering provides a way for third parties to discern who owns the copyright. Because you don't have to file the transfer, a short-form assignment contract is sufficient for filing. This document usually contains only limited details of the work you're assigning, including the copyright number (if applicable), the signatures of both parties, the signature of a witness if desired, and the date of the assignment.

Just like in any other contract, a copyright assignment should contain certain information, such as the amount of consideration, or money, being exchanged. When assigning your copyright, the other party should provide some amount of consideration. Contracts usually include the language “for other good and valuable consideration," and courts have held that even one dollar is acceptable. As long as each party to the contract is getting something in return and the contract is not made under duress or pressure, the contract is valid.

Likewise, as the owner of the copyright, you have the right to assign all or part of it. If you assign your entire copyright to the other party, you are giving up all of your rights to your own copyright. In the case of a book, for example, assigning only part of your copyright could mean:

  • Assigning it to one party for use as a movie and to another for use as a television show
  • Assigning one party the original version and another party a translated version
  • Assigning rights to different types of books, such as an audiobook, a traditional print book, and an e-book
  • A partial assignment for a limited duration, if you specify such in your agreement

Copyright laws protect you in case your work of intellectual property becomes famous or is worth money later on. While you can't get your copyright back for many years after your assignment unless the new owner consents otherwise, current copyright law allows you to terminate your copyright assignment after 35 years.

For example, songwriters who assigned their copyright to what are now legendary songs from the 1960s or 1970s can now recover the copyright to their songs, many of which have increased in value due to their use in commercials and television shows. The writer of "YMCA," a member of the Village People, successfully recovered his copyright by invoking his termination rights after the 35-year period.

If you're a freelancer who creates a work such as a poetry collection, you own the copyright of the poetry book and can assign the copyright, if you wish. If, however, you're employed by someone to write poems, either as an employee or as an independent contractor under their direction, your creation is sometimes called a work for hire .

Creation of intellectual property under a work-for-hire contract means that you don't own the copyright. Instead, whoever hired you owns it, and unless that person gives you permission to purchase or own the copyright, you cannot transfer it to anyone else.

The more control a client has over how and when you're creating the intellectual property, the more likely you're regarded as an employee rather than an independent contractor. An employer-employee relationship generally assures that the employer owns the copyright. If, on the other hand, you're an independent contractor and have more creative control over your project than an employee would have, then you're the copyright owner.

Because intellectual property is an extremely specialized area of the law, it's recommended that you use a copyright attorney or similar intellectual property specialist to assist in any assignments. You can start protecting your creative interests by registering your copyright .

Ronna L. DeLoe, Esq.

by   Ronna L. DeLoe, Esq.

Ronna L. DeLoe is a freelance writer and a published author who has written hundreds of legal articles. She does...


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The Difference Between Copyright Assignments and Licenses

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The Difference Between Copyright Assignments And Licenses

There are two ways that a copyright owner can transfer some or all of his or her copyright rights: through a license or an assignment.

In an assignment of copyright rights, the owner sells his or her ownership rights to another party and has no control over how the third party uses those rights. A copyright assignment is sometimes referred to as a sales agreement for copyright.

The buyer (assignee) can then use the copyrighted work or do whatever he or she wants with it. He or she all of the assigned rights that the original owner had.

A valid assignment of copyright must be in writing and signed by, or on behalf of, the copyright owner/assignor. The subject of the assignment must be clear as to what copyright is being assigned in which work(s).

In a license of copyright rights, the owner maintains his or her copyright ownership rights, but allows another party (the licensee) to exercise some of those rights without the licensee’s actions being considered copyright infringement. A license is often preferred over an assignment when the copyright holder wishes to maintain and exercise some ownership control over the rights and how the licensee uses the copyright holder’s rights.

For example, a typical software license agreement is a copyright license agreement. The software copyright owner grants the user/licensee the right to use the software in a specified, restricted manner. In return, the user/licensee may agree to limit his or her use of the software in various ways and to pay the copyright owner a license fee.

Unlike a copyright assignment, a copyright license does not have to be in a signed writing. A license can be oral or arise by implication when considering all of the facts and circumstances surrounding the transaction between the copyright owner and the purported licensee.

If you own a copyright in a work that you are thinking about assigning, you should consider whether to license your copyright instead, thus allowing you to retain ownership, and license only certain rights to the other party.

For additional information about the difference between copyright assignments and license, please  contact us .

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Copyright Assignment (Transfer Ownership of a Copyright)

General information.

A copyright assignment is the transfer of one’s ownership of a copyrighted work to another person or entity. The prior owner (assignor) gives up all rights to the work to the new owner (assignee). The assignee gains all rights to the work as the legal or beneficial owner and may take legal action to prevent infringing uses of the work, etc. Copyright Act Section 501(b) .

According to federal law, a voluntary transfer of copyright ownership is not valid unless the details of the conveyance are contained in a writing signed by the copyright owner or the owner’s authorized agent. Copyright Act Section 204(a) .


An assignment may be used:

  • After a business is sold and the work’s rights are transferred to the purchaser
  • As security for a debt (through a mortgage or other security interest)
  • As a bequest in a will or an asset passed to heirs by intestacy/probate
  • As part of the distribution of assets following a bankruptcy proceeding
  • The work’s owner retains ownership but changes his or her name
  • The work’s owner retains ownership but changes its business name or entity type
  • Any other instance where the owner of a work wishes to transfer it to another

Recording an assignment is not mandatory to assign the interest bur provides the following advantages:

  • Recording the transfer establishes a public record of the details of the transfer and the contents of the document affecting the transfer. Such details will appear in the Copyright Office’s online public catalog .
  • The document or material attached to it specifically identifies the work to which it pertains so that, after the document is indexed by the Register of Copyrights, it would be revealed by a reasonable search under title or registration number of the work; and
  • Registration has been made for the work.
  • Constructive notice means that the public is deemed to have knowledge of the facts stated in the document – including those speaking to the ownership of rights – and cannot claim otherwise.
  • Under Sections 205d and 205e of the Copyright Act , recording establishes priority of rights as between conflicting assignments/transfers of ownership, or between a conflicting assignment and a nonexclusive license. This means that the first recorded assignment will be taken as valid as against any later alleged assignments.
  • In some instances, recording may be necessary to validate the transfer of copyrights as against third parties. Copyright Office – Circular 1: Copyright Basics .
  • In some states, recording may be necessary to perfect a security interest. Copyright Office – Circular 12: Recordation of Transfers and Other Documents .

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Once a work is created and fixed in a tangible form, the author (or the author’s employer if the work was a Work Made for Hire), gains certain rights to the copyrighted work. The author has the exclusive right to: •  Reproduce the work in copies or phonorecords; •  Prepare derivative works based upon the work; •  Distribute copies or phonorecords of the work to the public; and •  Perform or display the work publicly.The author may subsequently transfer all or part of these rights through an (permanent) assignment or a (temporary) license. Copyright Act Section 201(d)(2) . Following negotiations between the parties as to the terms of the transfer, a written document must be signed by the owner of the rights conveyed stating the particular rights to be conveyed.
  • An assignment does not alter the work’s copyright duration. The assignee gains all rights transferred for the remainder of the copyright in effect. For works created by a single author, the length of copyright is the life of the author plus 70 years. Copyright Act Section 302(a) .
  • According to the Copyright Act, a copyright may be transferred by any means of conveyance, including bequeath by will or pass through intestate succession. Copyright Act Section 201(d)(1) . Some types of documents that may suffice include an assignment, mortgage, contract, deed, or promissory note.If you use our firm to assist you in your copyright assignment, we review your document to ensure that it conveys the rights desired, and then record it with the Copyright Office to establish a public record. Alternatively, if you do not have an existing document of transfer, we can draft a document to meet your purposes and then complete the recording process.
  • The Copyright Office does not provide a form or example of an acceptable document which effects a copyright transfer. Copyright Office FAQ – Assignment/Transfer of Copyright Ownership . The Copyright Office does not examine documents for legal sufficiency for their intended purpose prior to recording. Furthermore, the fee to record a document with the Copyright Office is nonrefundable. Copyright Office – Circular 12: Recordation of Transfers and Other Documents .It is therefore important to consult with an attorney knowledgeable about copyright assignments to ensure that the copyrighted work(s) in question actually transfer as desired.
  • No, the rights given by copyright are the author’s immediately upon fixing the work in a tangible medium of expression. These rights may be transferred through a written instrument and the Copyright Office will record such an instrument before or after the work has been registered with the Copyright Office. Copyright Act Section 205(a) . However, there are several important benefits of copyright registration, and it is helpful to register the work so that the recorded assignment references a work indexed in the Copyright Office’s records .
  • No, essentially for the same reasons, copyrights may be transferred whether or not the underlying work has been published. The Copyright Office will record a document evidencing a transfer of an unpublished work. Copyright Office – Circular 12: Recordation of Transfers and Other Documents .

Legal Services Offered and Cost

Recording of Copyright Assignment Note: this service is for copyright holders who have already transferred their copyright through a written instrument but have not yet filed/recorded the instrument Legal fees: $250 flat fee This includes:

  • Review of client’s information to ensure legal requirements are fulfilled
  • Answer client questions, make corrections, and obtain additional information as needed
  • Review of copyright assignment document to ensure proper transfer is made
  • Completion of Copyright Recordation Document Cover Sheet
  • Submission of the assignment document, Cover Sheet, and filing fee with the Copyright Office
  • Email confirmation of copyright assignment recording by the Copyright Office with official Certificate of Recordation

If you are ready to get started, please CLICK HERE to enter basic information using our secure online form.

Drafting and Recording of Copyright Assignment Legal fees: $250 flat fee

This includes:

  • Completion of copyright assignment document to make the assignment

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  • 10. How is an assignment of copyright different from a licence of copyright?

An assignment is a transfer of ownership of copyright from the copyright owner (the "assignor") to another party (the "assignee"), with the effect that the latter will become the new copyright owner. This is analogous to the sale of a flat whereby the buyer becomes the new owner of the flat. An assignment of copyright is not effective unless it is in writing signed by or on behalf of the assignor.

In contrast, a licence does not transfer ownership of copyright. It is an agreement whereby the copyright owner of a work (the "licensor") grants another party (the "licensee") the right to carry out certain specific acts in relation to the work (e.g. to make copies of the work, or to distribute copies of the work in the market) for an agreed period of time. A licence is analogous to the renting of a flat whereby the tenant is granted permission to use the flat for an agreed period of time.

A licence can be exclusive or non-exclusive. An exclusive licence is one where the licensed right is exercisable only by the licensee and no one else (including the licensor). To be effective, an exclusive licence must be in writing signed by or on behalf of the copyright owner. An exclusive licensee has, except against the copyright owner, the same legal rights and remedies as if the licence had been an assignment (see  section 112  of the  Copyright Ordinance ). A licence which is not an exclusive licence is referred to as a non-exclusive licence.

Choosing a subtopic

  • 1. How do I obtain copyright?
  • 2. How long does copyright last?
  • 3. What is a copyright notice? If I am the copyright owner, is it necessary to have a copyright notice on my work?
  • 4. How do I find out who owns the copyright in a particular work?
  • 5. How do I obtain permission to use a copyright work?
  • 6. Are there any works that I can use freely without having to obtain permission in respect of copyright?
  • 7. Further to question 6, are government publications in the public domain?
  • 8. Is my copyright valid in other countries?
  • 9. Is the copyright of a foreigner valid in Hong Kong?
  • 11. What are moral rights?
  • 12. Do performers enjoy copyright protection for their performances?
  • 13. Who owns the copyright in a work? Would different categories of work result in different ownership of copyright?
  • 14. A free-lance programmer has written a program to keep track of my company's inventory. I have paid him in full but we have never discussed the ownership of the program. Am I the copyright owner of the program? If not, do I have any rights in the program?
  • 15. I have written a book with two other co-authors. The book consists of 12 chapters and each of us is the sole author of 4 chapters. How is the copyright in this book shared between us?
  • 16. I have written a book with two other co-authors. None of us is the sole author of any part, as we all contributed to the writing and revising of each chapter. How is the copyright in the book shared between us?
  • 17. What happens to the copyright in a work when the company that owned it no longer exists or has been taken over?
  • 18. Does the same copyright law apply to electronic materials as printed materials?
  • 19. What is meant by a "multimedia work"? Is there anything special about the copyright in such a work?
  • 20. Are website postings and email messages protected by copyright? What about domain names on the Internet?
  • 21. I have downloaded images from a website situated in the United States. Which country's law would be used to determine whether or not I have infringed a copyright – US law or Hong Kong law?
  • 22. Is it legal to link to a webpage (insert a hyperlink on one webpage that links to another webpage) without obtaining its owner’s consent?
  • 1. Some of the contents of a book I have borrowed are out of copyright (the copyright period has expired). If I photocopy only the pages containing those contents, will I still infringe the copyright in the book?
  • 2. I am a shop owner and have bought a lawful copy of a musical CD. Will I infringe the copyright if I play the CD in my shop?
  • 3. I have bought a lawful copy of a movie on a DVD. Will I infringe the copyright if I show the movie in a fund-raising event for charitable purposes?
  • 4. I have bought a lawful copy of a CD containing a computer game. Will I be liable for copyright infringement if I lend the CD to my friend for him to play the game on his computer?
  • 5. A student has made photocopies of a book and distributed them to all of his classmates. Has he infringed copyright? What about his classmates?
  • 6. I have bought a pirate VCD on the street, am I liable for copyright infringement?
  • 7. Do I infringe copyright just by reading articles or listening to music found on the Internet?
  • 8. Are parallel imports (or grey-market goods) legal under the Copyright Ordinance?
  • 9. In writing a report, I have extracted various passages, tables and pictures from the Internet and included them in the report. Have I infringed any copyrights?
  • 10. My company has a practice of keeping photocopies of newspaper articles about the company and its competitors in an archive accessible to its staff. Is my company liable for copyright infringement?
  • 11. If I place hit songs on my website for others to download, but purely for sampling purposes, will I infringe the copyrights on those songs? What if I place only a part of each song on the website?
  • 12. I have bought a lawful copy of a CD containing a computer program. Do I infringe the copyright by making a backup copy of the CD? What about installing the program on more than one computer (e.g. on my home computer and office computer)?
  • 13. I have bought a lawful copy of a CD containing a computer program. Do I infringe copyright by reselling the CD through an auction on the Internet?
  • 14. Is it illegal to use the BitTorrent (BT) technology in Hong Kong?
  • 15. If my acts (e.g. distributing a copyrighted work without permission) are not done for commercial purposes, will I be immune from criminal prosecution for copyright infringement?
  • 16. What will be the consequence if a company is found criminally liable for copyright infringement?
  • 17. I have bought a lawful copy of a musical CD. Will I infringe the copyright if I convert it into MP3 format so that I can play it on a MP3 player?
  • 1. Is it true that copyright law allows me to photocopy, for example, not more than 10% of a book?
  • 2. I am a medical doctor and have my own clinic. Can I play movie DVDs in my clinic to entertain my patients while they are waiting?
  • 3. I work night shifts and cannot watch my favourite television programmes when they are shown. Can I record them so that I can watch them when I am off from work?
  • 4. I have 20 computers in my company and need to be cost-conscious when purchasing software. Can I install cheaper yet lawful copies of software purchased from other countries? Will it make any difference if there is an exclusive dealer of the software in
  • 5. Will I infringe any copyright if I take photographs of buildings in Hong Kong?
  • 6. I am a teacher and have found a good article in a magazine. Can I make photocopies of the article and distribute them to my students for class discussion?
  • 7. I am a teacher and like to collect reading materials for my students. If I scan those materials and put them on my website for my students to download, will I infringe copyright? What if I put them on the school's Intranet accessible only to my student
  • 8. Can a teacher copy examination questions found on the Internet and include them in his own examination paper for his students?
  • 9. Can schools show movies without obtaining permission from the copyright owners? What about recording radio or television programmes?
  • 10. My school plans to have an internal competition in which students will perform various dramas based on short novels written by local writers. Can my school do so without obtaining permission from the copyright owners?
  • 1. What type of things (inventions) can be protected by a patent?
  • 2. What should I note before making an application for a patent? What is the registration procedure?
  • 3. Who actually owns the patent rights for a product or process? What are the possible penalties for infringers (persons who have infringed the patent right of others)?
  • 1. To be more specific, what things may constitute a trade mark?
  • 2. What things should I know before making an application for registering a trade mark? What is the registration procedure?
  • 3. How long does the legal protection of a trade mark last under the Trade Marks Ordinance? What are the possible penalties for an infringement?
  • 1. What should I know if want to register a design with the Intellectual Property Department? What is the period of legal protection for a registered design under the Registered Designs Ordinance?
  • 2. After I have completed the prescribed registration procedure, what protection can I enjoy under the Registered Designs Ordinance? What are the possible penalties for an infringement?
  • Passing Off (misleading business reputation/goodwill)


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Assignment of copyright: formalities

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  1. What Are Some Examples of Copyright Infringement?

    Examples of copyright infringement include making or distributing copies, using all or a part of a copyrighted work, sampling a song or generally using copyrighted work without permission.

  2. 11 Surprising Copyrighted or Trademarked Phrases

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  5. Understanding an assignment of copyright agreement

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  6. Assignment/Transfer of Copyright Ownership (FAQ)

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  7. Assignment of Copyrights & Legal Implications

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  10. Copyright Assignment (Transfer Ownership of a Copyright)

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  11. 10. How is an assignment of copyright different from a licence of

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  12. Assignment of copyright: formalities

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