Friday 17 May 2013

A brief history of registered designs

Oh man, I clearly did not want to write this post.

This one has been a long time coming. Part of the problem is that Registered Designs are relentlessly boring. From the point of view of a philosophy of IP it doesn't get more utilitarian than RDs.

Designs evolved in parallel with Copyright. In fact Designs were originally protected as a special class of copyrights for patterns on linen. Hang on to your hats incredulous readers because it only gets more exciting from here. 

Sorry. No it doesn't.
A design is the overall appearance of a product. This includes the shape, configuration, pattern and ornamentation which, when applied to a product, give it a unique visual appearance. [Source]
The shape of the Holden Monaro:
a Registered Design(!)
What is a (little bit) interesting is why Designs are separate from copyrights these days[1]. Copyrights in an artwork can be lost if the design is "industrially applied." In Australia that happens if 50 copies are made. So a cup may be a copyrighted work of art (specifically a sculpture I guess) until you make 50 of them and then it's... yet another cup. If you wanted to prevent people from making exact copies of that cup you'd need to register the design with IP Australia

But why make this distinction? Why would a unique and distinctive design be copyrighted 49 times but then magically lose that protection once the 50th copy is made? Could it be because copyright is there to promote the higher ideals: science, art and learning? And if all you're doing is making lots of cups then clearly you aren't doing any of those things? And therefore... the state isn't prepared to lend the full weight of copyright law to something as ignoble as cup making or linen printing?

I don't know. I think I should know... I probably once did know... but finding out again would probably involve looking up Ricketson and $6,285.09 exceeds my budget.