Respecting the intellectual property rights of others is important. Before you use a symbol or image in your nonprofit’s marketing materials or on your website, search for the symbol or image online. Someone with a similar trademark could challenge your nonprofit’s use, even if your use is not considered trademark use.

Before adopting a name determine if someone else owns the rights to that name by searching for the name on:

  1. The United States Patent and Trademark Office website
  2.  The corporate database with the Washington Office of the Secretary of State, Corporations & Charities Division
  3.  The internet in general

While these searches will not provide a legal analysis of your rights, the searches may alert you to some possible issues you may encounter. Requesting a search by a trademark professional will give the best results, and even then, common law rights may be missed. The cost to defend unauthorized use of a trademark held by someone else or to compensate the owner for your unauthorized use can be high.

Ideally, any material used by the organization on its website or otherwise should be original material created by the organization. Other material should only be used with permission of the owner and credit should be given to the owner. (Additional information is provided in the section on Website & Online Usage.) Just because a “work” is older or the creator is deceased, do not assume the work is in the public domain and freely available for use. Rights may be retained by the creator’s estate.

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