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Apr 10, 2024 - 1:17:33 PM
2802 posts since 7/18/2007

This is not meant to stir anything up nor have any ulterior motive, just for pure discussion and enlightenment only (since I'm not all that knowledgeable in such matters).

Since Geoff Stelling retired and closed down Stelling Banjo Works with no heir apparent and no one buying the business where does that leave his patents and trademarks? I realize patents expire after 20 years so they are most likely fair game but trademarks are forever (as long as you renew every 10 years). Is it safe to assume that he has a trademark on his overall design therefore no one can produce a similarly engineered banjo (without his consent) or was this covered under what are now expired patents and is thus fair game?

Some of his engineering ideas were brilliant and his banjos reflect it. It's a shame if they cannot be used again if that's the case.

Edited by - banjoez on 04/10/2024 13:24:27

Apr 10, 2024 - 1:26:49 PM
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8262 posts since 9/21/2007
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All the patents I could find are expired, including design patents for his flange and two overall banjo designs.

Trademark and trade dress are different and he might have a claim to his peg head shape and certainly his name.

Apr 10, 2024 - 1:33:12 PM
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RB3

USA

2017 posts since 4/12/2004

You used to be able to extend the patent protection period beyond 20 years, but I know that there have been lots of changes in patent law with which I'm not familiar. I did a Google search, and I couldn't find anything that provided a straight answer on that issue.

With trademarks, I believe that you lose the right to have them protected if you abandon them in the marketplace, which would appear to be the case with Stelling. My recollection is that this was the issue in the litigation between Gibson and Elderly Instruments. I believe that Gibson lost the litigation effort.

Apr 10, 2024 - 1:38:53 PM
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8262 posts since 9/21/2007
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Apr 10, 2024 - 3:22:58 PM
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15228 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by banjoez

Is it safe to assume that he has a trademark on his overall design therefore no one can produce a similarly engineered banjo (without his consent) or was this covered under what are now expired patents and is thus fair game?


Yes. I believe engineering and design were covered by the patents that have long since expired. People have been free to copy Stelling's patented wedge-fit tone ring, rim, and flange for decades. As well as the solid hunk of metal tone ring design. These were covered by patents, which are for functional aspects of design.

Trademarks are for non-functional things that identify the source of the product. These are usually names, specific visual "word marks," symbols, or combinations of these. Think logos, which are trademarked, not copyrighted. Trademarks can also be non-functional aspects of product design. In fretted instruments, pegheads can be trademarked. Gibson has registered its iconic "mustache" or "open book" electric guitar peghead. Also the bell-shaped truss rod cover -- I kid you not.

Stelling had a trademark on the word mark STELLING as it appeared on its banjo headstocks. Actually, Geoff had that trademark for two different periods and each went dead/canceled, the most recent in 1994. Stelling dead trademark.

My quick search did not turn up Stelling ever trademarking his peghead shape, unique flange holes, or inlays. So these are fair game to be copied.

Just last week or so I commented in another discussion that it's probably too costly for someone to make the molds and other tooling necessary to build banjos using Stelling's wedge fit. The potential size of the market might not justify the investment. It's my understanding Stelling sold about 7500 banjos in its 47 years. How quickly is someone going to sell enough banjos to recoup the cost of a non-standard tone ring and flange? Even the tailpiece which bolts to the tension hoop was non-standard. 

I assume it cost less for someone to buy the tooling rather than fabricate it, but that didn't happen. Maybe the heirs who don't want to build banjos will let it all go for less when and if it becomes theirs to deal with.

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