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Iconic Las Vegas sign exemplifies intellectual property rights

Teaching people the value of intellectual property rights becomes much easier when there are real-world examples to use. Las Vegas has no shortage of high-profile businesses with notable trademarked names and other protected information. One local law school professor found a famous, local example of what can happen when an artist does not take the time to protect his or her work.

In the 1950s, the Las Vegas Resort Association and Clark County decided to put a sign in place that would welcome visitors to the city. They hired Western Neon to do the job, and the company’s sole artist designed the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign. The now-iconic sign cost $4,000 and was installed in 1959. Fifty years later, in 2009, the sign became part of the National Register of Historic Places. Clark County has also put nearly $1 million toward making sure tourists have a way to take their photographs with the sign.

A law professor at the William S. Boyd School of Law used the sign as an example in class because the artist never copyrighted her work, and Western Neon has since shut down. The sign is regularly featured on souvenirs such as shot glasses, key chains and T-shirts. The artist who created it said she considered her work to be a gift to the city and had she copyrighted the work, the sign may not have become so popular.

The artist does admit that it would have been nice to receive money for the sign’s popularity. Anyone who has questions regarding intellectual property should consult with an attorney.

Source: UNLV, “Learning from ‘Fabulous’ Las Vegas,” Tovin Lapan, Dec. 2, 2015

John P. Aldrich
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