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 to 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 specific situation it is best to speak with an attorney. Schedule your free consultation with a Founders Legal Intellectual Property Attorney.