Intellectual property industrial design pertains to intellectual property rights, which are the legal rights associated with intellectual activity in industrial, literary, artistic, and scientific fields. Intellectual property rights grant the creator exclusive ownership of the article or product for a specified period of time. These rights are meant to ensure recognition to the inventor or creator and maintain availability of original products.

Industrial design is a form of intellectual property. Industrial design rights protect the aesthetic design of an object. Industrial design includes the creation of a product with particular ornamentations, shapes, colors, or patterns, which are intended to improve its overall usability, functionality, or visual appeal. From boats to silverware, pillows to sound systems, any physical product with visible and original aesthetic characteristic may qualify for industrial design protection.

Why Do Industrial Design Rights Matter?

It's important to legally protect any new and original design that could achieve commercial success. If a third party (typically a competitor) creates, uses, or sells a product with a very similar or same design that may be mistaken for the original, the actual creator of the design may face detrimental effects.

Once an industrial design is registered, the owner is granted exclusive rights protection against illegal uses (e.g. imitation) by a third party without their consent. In addition, intellectual property rights encourage the development of variety and originality in the market. The everyday consumer, therefore, also benefits from this fair competition. In the industrial sector, protection of industrial design supports the economic development.

According to current intellectual property law, industrial designs may be protected through design patents, trade dress, and copyright. In particular, copyright laws protect creations ranging from more traditional works of art (music, literature, visual art) to more recent developments in art (motion pictures, computer software, sound, and video recordings). As soon as a work is produced in a tangible and fixed form, copyright protection arises. Within copyright law, creators maintain the exclusive rights to their work, subject to specific limitations including the fair use privilege.

Understanding Industrial Design Law Terms

The following terms, pertaining to copyright law, are applicable in the US:

  • The patent must be intended for a "new, original and ornamental design for an article of manufacture."
  • Patent applications, usually consisting of drawings, may concern a variety of products, including "apparel, automobile parts, computer products, containers, cosmetics, electronics products, textile designs, home furnishings, home appliances, jewelry, motor vehicles, office supplies, optics, and toys."
  • A design must be "primarily ornamental" and must not have been obvious to a typical designer of average skill associated with the product.
  • If the design is not merely ornamental and is in fact "dictated by the performance of the article, then it is judged to be functional and ineligible for design patent protection." A utility patent would be better suited to protecting the utilitarian and functional features of a product.
  • Design patents prohibit others from the "unauthorized manufacture, use, or sale of the article embodying the patented design or any colorable imitation thereof."
  • To prove infringement, the original patent owner must prove to the courts that "in the eye of an ordinary observer, giving such attention as a purchaser usually gives," both designs "are substantially the same, if the resemblance is such as to deceive such an observer, inducing him to purchase one supposing it is the other."

Industrial Design Patent Registration

Registering a design patent occurs in two stages. Initially, you'll need to supply written information about the industrial design. Then, you'll need to provide descriptions, drawings, and diagrams. Until both are completed, the patent will not be issued.

The registration process will take 12 to 24 months. Once you receive the patent, it will last five years. During the last six months of this term, you'll be able to renew it, but you may only do so once. A design patent lasts for 14 years, but other protections will still be applicable.

You may be able to receive an extension if you can prove both the value and importance of the design patent and the continuing demand. If not, the USPTO will determine the other protections available through copyright law to be enough.

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