1What is Industrial Design?
An industrial design is the ornamental or aesthetic aspect of an article. The design may consist of three-dimensional features, such as the shape or surface of an article, or of two-dimensional features, such as patterns, lines or color. Industrial designs are applied to a wide variety of products of industry and handicraft: from technical and medical instruments to watches, jewelry, and other luxury items; from housewares and electrical appliances to vehicles and architectural structures; from textile designs to leisure goods. To be protected under most national laws, an industrial design must be new and/or original. Novelty or originality is determined with respect to the existing design corpus. An industrial design is primarily of an aesthetic nature, and does not protect any technical features of the article to which it is applied.
2Why protect industrial designs?
Industrial designs are what makes a product attractive and appealing; hence, they add to the commercial value of a product and increase its marketability. When an industrial design is protected, this helps to ensure a fair return on investment. An effective system of protection also benefits consumers and the public at large, by promoting fair competition and honest trade practices. Protecting industrial designs helps economic development, by encouraging creativity in the industrial and manufacturing sectors and contributes to the expansion of commercial activities and the export of national products.
3How can industrial designs be protected?
In most countries, an industrial design must be registered in order to be protected under industrial design law. As a general rule, to be registrable, the design must be “new” or “original”. Different countries have varying definitions of such terms, as well as variations in the registration process itself. Generally, “new” means that no identical or very similar design is known to have existed before. Once a design is registered, the term of protection is generally five years, with the possibility of further periods of renewal up to, in most cases, 15 years. Depending on the particular national law and the kind of design, an industrial design may also be protected as a work of art under copyright law. In some countries, industrial design and copyright protection can exist concurrently. In other countries, they are mutually exclusive: once the owner chooses one kind of protection, he can no longer invoke the other. Under certain circumstances an industrial design may also be protectable under unfair competition law, although the conditions of protection and the rights and remedies ensured can be significantly different.
4What cannot be protected by industrial design rights?
Designs that are generally barred from registration in many territories include:
- designs that do not meet the requirements of novelty, originality and/or individual character;
- designs that are considered to be dictated exclusively by the technical function of a product; such technical or functional design features may be protected, depending on the facts of each case, by other IP rights (e.g. patents, utility models or trade secrets);
- designs incorporating protected official symbols or emblems (such as the national flag);
- designs which are considered to be contrary to public order or morality.
5What rights are conferred by industrial design protection?
When an industrial design is registered, the holder receives the right to prevent unauthorized copying or imitation by third parties. This includes the right to prevent all unauthorized parties from making, selling or importing any product in which the design is incorporated or to which it is applied. Because industrial design rights are territorial in nature, this right is limited to the territory for which the design is registered.
6How extensive is industrial design protection?
Generally, industrial design protection is limited to the country in which protection is granted. Under the Hague Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Industrial Designs, a WIPO-administered treaty, a procedure for an international registration is offered. An applicant can file a single international application with WIPO. The applicant can designate as many Contracting Parties as he wishes.