selling your design

Hi all,

I’m new to this forum. I’m glad i found it, because i need some advice.
I hope someone can help me. I have searched the different forums but couldn’t find a thread /topic that really applies to my situation:
I’m a designer. My main activity is designing and ‘manufacturing’ furniture and interiors. So, i’m not an industrial designer, but somehow i got involved in a pitch for an industrial product.

My question concerns the copyrightissue : My client wants the copyright of this product. So i will sign away all my rights. The contract doesn’t mention any compensation for waving away my rights and i will not be credited at all. If my client wants to change my design they are free to do so. (according to the contract) I think that’s quite odd, isn’t it? What is customary in these kind of situations? I mean, if there is not a royaltiesagreement, what do you charge for selling your design?

This concerns a product that will be injection moulded, so not exactly a limited edition, with big start up costs aswell. I will get paid ofcourse for designing the product, but what about selling the design? Is there anyone who can tell me more about this?


You need to negotiate terms up front to avoid issues like this since most of it comes down to perception. Fail to make clear the expectations up front, you end up where you are now.

If you have a written contract with the client, hold up to it. Even if it’s not in your favor, hold true to you end of the bargin and re-negotiate later.

Also, if they have paid you in full for the design, in a way, they pretty much own it. Always make sure you have the rights in your contract to advertise your roll in the creation of the product.

Just recently, we did a project for a Fortune 500 company. We agreed that as long as I was paid for my time in full, title will transfer to company. If they don’t pay in full, I have the right to sue for damages. Point is, the expectations were worked out ahead of time. No miss-understandings.

In your case, take the payment for time spent, and use this as a learning experience.

i’m sorry, i didn’t make myself clear in my post: i didn’t sign this contract. At this moment i’m gathering information on how to deal with this situation.
(client wants everything, but most likely doesn’t want to pay royalties)


Well, in that case, your in a good position. Agree to what you think is fair. In most cases, you end up having to agree to the clients terms. Stand strong. If you don’t think the deal is fair, don’t take on the project.

Until your more established, and in constant demand, the client holds the ball. Doesn’t mean you have to sell your self short. Any contract should be fair to both parties.

In your situation, pitch your case. If they don’t agree to your terms, and you need the work, its obvious what the situation will be. The secret is to know what your worth. Confidence, and experience helps with negotiations.

Then again, if you are paid for your time, I wouldn’t worry about copyrights etc. Ever thought about working for stock options? I think there was a firm in Palo Alto that did that once?

we’re forgetting to give him the BEST advice…

IMMEDIATELY hire an attorney or an agent to represent you who has knowledge and experience with such deals. It’s just plain out down right CRAZY to walk in there by yourself knowing that you’re gonna sign something on thier turf.

Don’t sit there “um” “er” and hamming and hawing about if something “sounds good” to you at that moment.

I understand i need an attorney, this is a complicated matter. And yes, it would not be a smart thing to do to walk in there and hope the best for it, i completely agree.
I just wonder how i should be compensated when i sell the design, because i really can’t tell ’ what is fair’. Just being paid for my time doesn’t seem right, or is it?


isn’t anybody out there who can help me out? I already got in contact with an attorney, so besides the copyright issue, is there anybody who can tell me more about the financial aspects? I’d hoped someone would share their experience on these matters,


If you don’t know what’s fair, then you are in over your head. In order to sell yourself, you need to know what your self worth is. For the most part, there is no real standard to this… its called business and its all about strategy.

You need to decided what is fair to you, what you feel your skills are worth, and see how people respond. Confidence, experience, knowlege and being calm all play into your deal. Reputation and demand play an even bigger role.

If you feel giving up copyrights is unfair, than don’t comit to the project. But also expect to walk away without work. When your being paid by someone, the person with the check usually calls the shots.

Your attorney should be able to provide you with advice regarding these matters. If not, get a new attorney. But at least spend 250 - 500 dollars to consult with him.

What’s wrong with being paid for your time? If you are just starting off, getting paid alone is a challange in itself and you should be happy to just get a check. Again, if that’s not fair to you (getting paid just for design) then what is?

Sit down and ask, what do I want? What do I think is fair? Then, go into your meeting with a proposal, and negotiate. You don’t have to decide on the spot, but at least present your terms and reasons why you feel you deserve what you are asking for.

If you are just starting off, your too new to negotiate based on your ego. Put the designer ego aside and take the check. If the procject is a success, you now have a track record. Going in saying, “I want this, and this and this” is meaningless unless you have the reputation to back it up.

I see your point broozee. There’s nothing wrong with being paid for your time, and i know a less experienced desinger will probably charge less than a more experienced one. But this is about an hourly rate.
What i understood from other people is that it is highly unusual to sign away all your (copy)rights, without credits, and without any compensation, whether you are an experienced designer or not.
Sometimes people agree on a royalty contract and i was just wondering what the common percentages are in such a case (depending on the product and annual sales probably) And what if the client doesn’t want to pay royalties? Just take the money for your time? Hmmm… We are talking about a big company and an injection moulded product and a large number of sales here…


signing away your rights, no royalties? Usually you charge 200% of the designers fee.


ive also heard of clauses that you can put in the contract, say, you want your name to be mentioned in terms of the design of it. so you get the credit.

so the work is done? completed?

did you have to sign anything prior to the start of the work? that should give you an idea of where you are. if you didn’t you might have more power to fanagle some more rights for yourself. But that can also put a bad taste in their mouths in terms of future work. Seriously talk to an attorney.

i’m still in the middle of negotiations. It’s a “take it or leave it deal”, without any credits. I’m not even allowed to mention the design in my portfolio. :cry:
So i have to come up with an estimate for the rest of project and the compensation i want for signing away my rights / selling the design. Most of the designwork i already did during the pitch. So i should charge 200% of my designers fee for that?


by the way: i did talk to an attorney.

Here’s a few quick thoughts:

It sounds like what they are asking you to sign is a “work for hire” clause. This type of clause gives them complete rights to your design. Employees automatically fall under this designation (unless otherwise negotiated with employer).

Typically, you should avoid this type of arrangements. Most companies we do work for have a standard boilerplate contract for contractors. “Work for hire” is usually part of that contract. I point out that as a designer, I don’t fal under typical contractor rules. I’m covered by the copyright act of 1978 (or is it '76?) which gives me the copyright to all my work.

But, understanding the client’s needs and their point of view, I generally offer this: I keep copyrights to all preliminary development work, but turn over full rights to the finished design. I retain a right to show final designs as part of our portfolio (with an understanding not to show work until the product is in production or some other reasonable time limit). I also retain the riight to be named as inventor on any patent that arises from my design. Personally, I think this is pretty generous on my part.

I strike out the unacceptable clauses and put in my version of the above. I then send it back for their approval. I’ve been doing this type of work for about 8 years now (short by some standards, longer to others) and haven’t had a client reject it yet. If a client ever did reject it, my next step would be to let them know that if I am to sign away all my rights, a much larger fee is in order.

During my negotiations, I usually throw in words like “industry standards” and “Professional association recomendations”. That usually does the trick.

But if you’re really hungry, and you need the work, you just have to buckle under. Don’t ever let them know you are hungry, or they’ll use it to their advantage everytime – I have never found a benevolent first-time client. Figure you can use it to build your portfolio.

Hope that helps

great reply ^^^^

In other areas where royalties can apply, there is what is known as a buyout clause. Just put one in and see what the response looks like. Usually works out something like this: X total contract to design and deliver prototypes, drawings, etc,plus Y percent of gross revenues before taxes and other expenses, OR, X total contract to design and deliver prototypes, drawings, etc., plus Z percent of initial X contract in perpetuity. You’ll need to run this language by a lawyer but the gist is there.

I tried this once and at least it made them think. I know I got a better starting salary because of it.