Industrial designs (“ID”) protect a product’s unique appearance such as shape, configuration, pattern and/or ornamental features. The protection can be obtained for the design of the entire finished article or just a part of it. Examples of industrial designs can be found everywhere, ranging from your cellphone’s overall shape and graphic user interface to the colour patterns of your clothes.
The exclusive right conferred by the Industrial Design Act does not extend to what the design is made of, how it is made, or how it works. These types of considerations are protectable through patents or trade secrets. However, too often, companies focus primarily on patent protection to the exclusion of other intellectual property rights. Simply put, industrial design protection should not be neglected where shape and configuration assist in a product’s marketability. ID protection can be used alone or in conjunction with other forms of intellectual property as a less expensive means to stop infringing activity.
How the Registration System Works in Canada
Canada employs a first-to-file system which means it is not necessarily who designed first that is entitled to an ID registration but rather it is a race of who files it first at the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (“CIPO”). To obtain an ID registration, it is necessary that the design be novel, which means that no identical or substantially similar design has ever been registered or disclosed. Therefore, if designer ‘1’ created a novel design before designer ‘2’ but designer ‘1’ did not file an application or publicly disclose the novel design (i.e., left the design prototype in their garage or computer) and designer ‘2’ independently created a substantially similar design and filed for the design within 12 months from designer ‘2’s’ public disclosure, then designer ‘2’ will be entitled to the industrial design registration. Notably, an applicant (i.e., designer ‘2’) is given a 12-month window (grace period) to file from its public disclosure or the public disclosure by a person who obtained knowledge of the ID directly or indirectly from the applicant (designer ‘2’).
Before filing, you should conduct a thorough search, preferably with professional assistance from an intellectual property lawyer, to ensure your design is novel and has not been previously registered or disclosed.
Applications are kept confidential until the earlier of either the registration date or 30 months after the application filing date or priority date. Therefore, the design disclosed in the application will become available to the public following the expiry of the confidentiality period. As such, if an applicant does not wish to disclose a design prior to a product launch, careful consideration should be given to the approximate time it typically takes from application to registration of an ID (12 to 18 months).
After registration, you only have to pay a one-time maintenance fee at the 5-year mark. The application process for an industrial design is much faster than that of a patent application. The exclusive right granted by the CIPO registration begins on the registration date and ends on the later of the end of 10 years after the registration date or the end of 15 years after the filing date. Therefore, an ID registration exclusivity is anywhere from 10 to 15 years.
Converting an Industrial Design into a “Perpetual” Trademark Right which can be used to Enforce Copyright
Through proactive and strategic planning, ID’s can be used as an effective tool to ultimately result in perpetual protection for a design.
Designs such as three-dimensional shapes can be registered as non-traditional trademarks under the Trademarks Act. However, in order to obtain a shape trademark registration, unlike a regular trademark, it is necessary to provide proof (evidence) of distinctiveness of the trademark at the date of filing of the shape trademark application. To overcome the hurdle of distinctiveness, a meaningful strategy is to first secure an industrial design registration, build up distinctiveness through the monopoly granted by the industrial design registration, and at some point, during the term of the ID registration, file an application for the shape trademark. Once registered, the shape trademark is valid for 10 years and can be renewed indefinitely every 10 years. In other words, a shape trademark can exist in perpetuity with use.
The Canadian Copyright Act permits the reverse engineering of an article if more than 50 articles are made. However, if the article (i.e., shape) is itself a trademark, then it is prohibited to reverse engineer the article without infringing copyright. Therefore, the ID can be used to support a distinctiveness claim for trademark rights and ultimately lead to enforcement through copyright.
International Protection by the Hague System
To avoid submitting individual applications in each country of interest, the Hague System for the International Registration of Industrial Designs provides an option to register an industrial design in multiple countries by filing a single international application (Hague application) with the International Bureau (IB) of World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).
The IB of WIPO verifies compliance with formal requirements only, without any examination for novelty. A Hague application that complies with the formal requirements is recorded in the International Register and published in the International Designs Bulletin, followed by a substantial examination by each country identified in your application under its domestic law.
In respect of Canada, the international registration is valid for the first 5 years from the date of the international registration and may be renewed twice, namely, at the 5-year mark and the 10-year mark.
A valid ID registration provides the exclusive right to prevent others from making, selling or importing an article that embodies or is substantially similar to the registered ID.
Always try to think outside the box as part of your business strategy as it is important to identify all aspects of your IP assets. For example:
- a unique design may be protected by an ID registration;
- the new, inventive and useful functionality of the product may be covered by a patent;
- the logo of the product may be registered as a trademark;
- the advertising campaign video to promote your product may be protected by copyright.
In conclusion, you should always utilize a combination of IP assets to maximize your IP protection, depending on your budget and your new product development plan.
If you have any intellectual property questions, please feel free to reach out to MBM for a free consultation.