906.9 Measuring and Computing Devices
Devices that compute, measure, and record data are useful articles. Common examples of such devices include slide rulers, wheel dials, depth gauges, dive computers, echo- sounders, and perpetual calendar designs. These types of devices do not contain expressive authorship and are merely designed to calculate and produce facts, data, or other useful information. As such, they are not copyrightable. See 37 C.F.R. § 202.1 (D).
The U.S. Copyright Office may register pictorial, graphic, or sculptural features that have been applied to a measuring or computing device, but only if those features are separable from the article. For example, a logo appearing on a scale, or a fanciful graphic on a telescope may be registered if they incorporate “pictorial, graphic, or sculptural features that can be identified separately from, and are capable of existing independently of, the utilitarian aspects of the article.” 17 U.S.C. § 101 (definition of “pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works”). For a general discussion of useful articles, see Section 924.
Likewise, textual or artistic material that explains or illustrates a device and its use may be protectable if it is sufficiently creative, as long as it does not itself perform the actual useful function of the device. For example, a technical drawing with significant text and pictures that shows how to use a device may be registrable. But the registration for that drawing would extend only to the descriptive or illustrative authorship and would not extend to the concept, physical design, and use of the device itself. See 17 U.S.C. § 113 (B).
When asserting a claim in an instructional manual or other text or images that explain or illustrate a device, applicants should use terms that specifically describe the expressive authorship that the author contributed to the work, such as “text of description of device,” “text of instructions,” “technical diagrams,” or “photographs of device.”
Applicants should avoid using the terms “device,” “equipment,” “sculpture,” “housing,” or “container” to refer to content that appears on the face or surface of the device.
Applicants should avoid using the terms “format,” “layout,” and “compilation” to refer to the overall design features or to the overall combination of content on the face or surface of the device. Applicants also should avoid using vague terms, such as “entire work.”