From Designing Property to Intellectual Property

Before attending law school, I worked as an interior designer in Chicago for about three years. When I started my career, I was excited to be a part of a creative industry to push the limits of design and wow the world with innovation!

The first memory I have of my career was reading a clause of my contract that stated, “all work you create here will be the product of the company and advertised as such.” I always heard that if I worked for a company, that anything I created would be their property. However, it wasn’t until reading the contract the idea truly hit me that someone else would have ownership over something I created.

I couldn’t shake this idea that everything I created belonged to someone else. I understood that relinquishing ownership was an industry standard and most profitable and efficient for companies. But in such a creative field, that concept was hard for me to reconcile. I began wondering if there was a way to protect the designs I created.

I also noticed that other designers lacked protection. Particularly in the area of furniture design and the “thirty percent rule.”

The Thirty Percent Rule

Whether to protect creators – or not – was a frequent issue I saw when working with furniture design. We frequently collaborated with furniture designers to furnish our interiors, however we typically always asked them to lower their prices. If lower pricing wasn’t available, my firm instructed us to resort to the “thirty percent rule.” If a furniture piece is altered by at least thirty percent, it is considered an original piece (or so some design firms say). Many interior design firms rely on the thirty percent rule to rip off another creator’s design. My firm followed this practice when lower pricing wasn’t available. We could then send this “altered” design to a cheaper furniture manufacturer and have them produce it.

Sounds legit right? As it turns out, it doesn’t exist! The thirty percent rule is a myth. If a work is copied, an imitator faces the risk of copyright infringement. Nonetheless, the thirty percent rule is widely cited throughout the design industry and other creative professions. Many assume it effectively protects manufacturers to copy someone else’s work and sell it as their own. Many of these replications go into private spaces and are only revealed if they are photographed and later published after which the original designer may pursue a lawsuit.

Diving into IP

Since arriving at Loyola I’ve been fascinated by intellectual property law and how it functions to protect original thought and creation. My first opportunity for a deeper dive into intellectual property was an elective taught by  , Global Access to Medicine: A Patent Perspective. This course explored what it looks like when creators of drugs do have strong rights and the subsequent impact on access to medicine. This illustration of stronger or more lenient protections encouraged me to examine my views on ownership rights and see how it can be beneficial to larger society when intellectual property is not viewed as an impenetrable right. To further explore intellectual property, I am enrolled in the IP survey course in the fall and look forward to learning more about the subject generally. In addition, I am on the board of the Intellectual Property Law Society for the coming year. I look forward to collaborating with others who have an interest in IP through class as well as networking events with professionals.

Though I came to law school with the hope to learn more about the process of protecting people who work in creative fields, my first year at Loyola has illuminated how expansive intellectual property is. Throughout my time in law school, I hope to learn more about the process of protecting innovators not just in creative fields, but anyone looking to protect their work. As I head into 2L, I am excited to learn more!


Marguerite Fisher-Heath
Assistant Blogger
Loyola University Chicago School of Law, J.D. 2024