William Daniel Powell

William Daniel Powell is a San Diego attorney that focuses his practice in the Estate Planning area helping families and individuals with Estate Planning needs. This is his regular blog where he writes on various subjects relating to estate planning and estate law.

Dec 7, 2015 | 0 comments

Estate Planning for Those with Copyrights, Patents, and Trademarks.

Many of us own and wish to pass on similar kinds of property such as a home, vehicles, personal property and so on. For an estate planner this is all pretty standard stuff. Now there can be many different methods for distribution of these kinds of assets, but the property itself is almost always present in an estate plan. Something that is not so common but entirely proper for an estate plan is the ownership of copyrights, patents, and trademarks. Patents have a fairly short lifespan – especially in comparison to copyrights which are, for the most part, the life of the author plus 70 years. There are many different situations where this timeframe can be longer in copyright law, but for this blog we will just call it the life of the author plus 70 years. Maybe it’s just because I live in San Diego and I own many copyrights, or maybe it’s because Hollywood tends to be the movie and music center of the world, but I feel like San Diego and Southern California in general has more copyright owners then elsewhere. What do you think? I think that estate planning attorneys in the Southern California area should be pretty well versed in handling copyright, patent, and trademark issues as they relate to estate planning.

A Brief Explanation of Copyright

Copyrights are derived from the Constitution and are a kind of monopoly over the work the author has created. The copyright owner has the right to exploit his work to the exclusion of all others unless some other arrangement has been made. As you might guess if a copyright such as a song is making money, it can continue to make money for the author’s lifetime plus an additional 70 years. Actually, it can continue to make money forever, but that’s as long as the author or his or her heirs can collect personally from the song before it becomes public domain.

Termination of Transfer Rights

So what happens when a copyright owner transfers an interest in a copyright in some trust or instrument other than by a will? A transfer would include the grant of a nonexclusive license of the copyright, or the assignment of a copyright. Well, this may be subject to termination provisions provided for in 17 USC section 304. The main exception, as hinted at above, is when somebody transfer such a right by a will. If however the transfer was by an instrument or a trust other than a will a widow, child, or grandchild of the creator who transferred a copyright through such instrument may be able to set aside the transfer. As always are certain exceptions and statutory requirements depending on the situation.

So as you can see it is very important for an attorney to understand all the facts regarding your estate. Likewise it is important to understand items you may have received upon another’s passing. As always feel free to contact me at any time regarding California law.

Thanks for reading!


Just like my website, nothing in this blog is intended as legal advice. If you need legal advice, contact an attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction. I am licensed to practice law in California. Further, please remember that I speak in generalities in my blog (and on my website). There are so many different factors that can contribute and completely change the outcome that it would not be practical to discuss all of them here. This is why I speak in generalities. Thanks again for reading.


This document is for informational purposes only. Nothing in this is to be considered legal advice. Nothing in this shall create an attorney/client relationship, nor shall it create a confidential relationship. If you need legal advice (in California), feel free to contact me or someone licensed to practice in your jurisdiction. I assume no liability or responsibility for actions taken, or not taken, as a result of reading this information.