Virtually any product that we can buy or find in the shelves of a shop is not only a functioning group of pieces. Even though there are some objects whose purpose is to serve a certain utility - in example, a nutcracker is meant to crack nuts, a computer is meant to compute and run software, and a bottle is meant to contain some liquid - there is more to those objects that their particular functions. A bottle will not only contain a beverage or some detergent. It will also have a certain shape, colour, texture, size and feel.
Choosing the right look for a product is more difficult and more important than it seems. The buying intention of potential customers is heavily influenced by the aesthetics of a product or its packaging. The design of objects conveys feelings and messages, therefore the right design will communicate to the buyer something that they will see as possitive - and thus they will be more likely to buy that product.
The visual design of a product is also a way to convey the concept of the company or mark behind it. It is a mean through which the company introduces and presents itself to the public and tries to show that their products are what we want. A correct industrial design will make people identify some products with their own personality, desires and aspirations. It will also give the company a distinctive identity that will make it stand out. Therefore, external design of products has an important role in value creation.
Industrial design is the aesthetic aspect of products, beside all functionality. It can be protected under Intellectual Property rights.
The first record of a design registration law is actually found in the United Kingdom. In 1787, an act was settled with the purpose of protecting the visual pattern of fabrics in the textile area. In present days, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) regulates international IP, incluiding industrial design rights. Unlike other kind of intellectual protectionr records, international industrial design rights actually applies in many countries, as long as they are part of the Hague treaty - an agreement treaty between members of the WIPO.
In order to achieve intellectual property rights over an industrial design, some requirements must be met.
1) The appliant must present a scaled model of the design that is detailed and complete but under a foot square.
2) The appliant must provide a detailed, linear drawing of the design.
3) The appliant must describe through a text the design incluiding all its parts and aspects.
In some countries, prior research is needed in order to avoid filing for registration a design that is already registered by someone else. Design patents can last for up to 70 years after the decease of the registring designer.
Given the strong commercial value of design, companies give it great importance and fight to protect and defend their exclusivity over it. Some big corporations often find themselves suing each other for the use of registered industrial design, a very known example being the litigations between Apple and Samsung over the visual appearance of their smartphones.
A key aspect of this issue is that industrial design is not about technology, but corporate identity. Even in the patenting law system, there is a distinction between Utility patents and Design patents. Utility patents protect the functional aspects of products, the technology or mechanism that makes them actually work. Design patents protect the appearance of products. One object could be protected by more than one patent. Actually, complex products such as the above mentioned smartphones can use hundreds of different patented technologies at the same time, because each piece of their mechanism is a different invention.
A distinctive design for a product has a double importance. It does not only prevent the design to be found similar to a prior design and therefore subject to litigation, but also it gives the company a strong identity. Industrial design can be a main factor under business failure or success. The role of designers is to search within the potential customers for what they want -whether or not they conciously know it- and translate it into images and shapes. The final design must be a combination of corporate identity and the people's demand.
The great value of industrial design is not often reflected in the legal system. Utility patents are far more developed and perfected. The industrial design registration law is more flawed and still developing. Industrial designs should be given a strong legal protection that makes justice to its capital importance.
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