What is an industrial design?
An industrial design refers to the ornamental or aesthetic aspects of an article. A design may consist of three-dimensional features, such as the shape or surface of an article, or two- dimensional features, such as patterns, lines or color.
Industrial designs are applied to a wide variety of industrial products and handicrafts: from technical and medical instruments to watches, jewelry and other luxury items; from house wares 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 or original and non-functional. This means that an industrial design is primarily of an aesthetic nature, and any technical features of the article to which it is applied are not protected by the design registration. However, those features could be protected by a patent.
Why protect industrial designs?
Industrial designs are what make an article attractive and appealing; hence, they add to the commercial value of a product and increase its marketability. When an industrial design is protected, the owner – the person or entity that has registered the design – is assured an exclusive right and protection against unauthorized copying or imitation of the design by third parties. 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, encouraging creativity and promoting more aesthetically pleasing products. Protecting industrial designs helps to promote economic development by encouraging creativity in the industrial and manufacturing sectors, as well as in traditional arts and crafts. Designs contribute to the expansion of commercial activity and the export of national products. Industrial designs can be relatively simple and inexpensive to develop and protect. They are reasonably accessible to small and medium-sized enterprises as well as to individual artists and craftsmakers, in both developed and developing countries.
How 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 rule, to be registrable, the design must be “new” or “original”. 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 previously existed. Once a design is registered, a registration certificate is issued. Following that, the term of protection granted is generally five years, with the possibility of further renewal, in most cases for a period of up to 15 years. Hardly any other subject matter within the realm of intellectual property is as difficult to categorize as industrial designs. And this has significant implications for the means and terms of its protection. Depending on the particular national law and the kind of design, an industrial design may also be protected as a work of applied art under copyright law, with a much longer term of protection than the standard 10 or 15 years under registered design law. In some countries, industrial design and copyright protection can exist concurrently. In other countries, they are mutually exclusive: once owners choose one kind of protection, they 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 available can differ significantly.
How extensive is industrial design protection?
Generally, industrial design protection is limited to the country in which protection is granted. The Hague Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Industrial Designs, a WIPO administered treaty, offers a procedure for international registration of designs. Applicants can file a single international application either with WIPO or the national or regional office of a country party to the treaty. The design will then be protected in as many member countries of the treaty as the applicant designates.