16 June, 2016

Trunki Aftermath - UKIPO Issues Guidance on Design Applications

Since the Supreme Court's decision in Trunki, which this writer somewhat disagreed with, there has been some uncertainty as to the place of designs in the UK, particularly in relation to the question of lack of ornamentation and the illustration of designs in the applications. In the light of this uncertainty, the UK Intellectual Property Office recently sought to give applicants (and their legal advisers) some degree of clarity in this matter.

The UKIPO's note DPN 1/16 ("Guidance on use of representations when filing Registered Design applications") gives guidance on the filing of various illustrations and their implications; something many legal practitioners desperately needed since the above decision. The note is by no means legally binding, but certainly a very persuasive and important document when considering advise being given to potential applicants of registered designs in the UK.

The crux of this issue is the use of more simple designs that aim to protect shape alone, and more intricate ones, which seek to protect the shape and the look and/or ornamentation of the design. The former of the two offers a much wider scope of protection, whereas the more intricate a design is, arguably the harder it is to succeed in a like-for-like assessment of infringement. Case law has not settled this matter entirely, with line drawings possibly protecting only shape or to also include even minimalist ornamentation (as was seen in Trunki, i.e. a lack of ornamentation could be construed as a feature, weighing against included ornamentation in another product). The note does also acknowledge that a lack of ornamentation can be a feature (as opposed to the obiter comments presented in the Trunki decision, as mentioned above), which was a question that needed to be settled due to a lack of a referral to the CJEU by the Supreme Court.

Frustrations over design applications were palpable
Although not discouraging the use of CAD drawings, such as in Trunki, the UK IPO still highlights that "[w]hen using more detailed CAD-type representations, the visible presence of apparently-incidental features such as, for example, shading and light reflection, may still be taken into account by a Court or Tribunal, and may have the effect of limiting protection to shape ‘and more’. Therefore, when seeking to protect shape-only, applicants are advised to use simple line drawings, without any colour or tonal differences, and without any visible surface features or decoration". One can appreciate that, should an applicant want the broadest protection possible, they should seek to use line drawings rather than CAD imagery. The decision in Procter & Gamble does raise the possibility of this being an issue for any additional features, but this writer would hesitate a guess that most would want to aim for shape-only protection over uncertainty as to any 'incidental' features raised in opposition or infringement proceedings.

The UK IPO further highlights the possible use of disclaimers in filings, where features not intended for protection are excluded in the application, which can be done both in "...graphic form (for example, by circling those elements which are intended for protection, or by blurring-out those elements which are not), or in written form (by drafting and submitting a statement which explicitly states what is or is not intended for protection)". This is important in a CAD image context, where shading and color differences (e.g. a black handle) can be issues down the line, but can be remedied using these limitations.

The Office summarises their guidance at the end of the note, which sets out quite clearly that "Applicants should be careful when selecting representations to ensure that they accurately reflect what the design is intended to protect. Designers should always give thought as to how their design might be exploited by others, and ask themselves whether the features disclosed in their chosen representations accurately convey what they are seeking to protect. In all cases, the protection conferred is likely to be assessed by reference to features disclosed in the representation(s) submitted, rather than by reference to the ‘type’ or ‘format’ of representation used". As one can see, the format of the representation (i.e. whether a CAD image is used or a line drawing) will not be the determining factor limiting the protection of the design, but the features it discloses, including possibly a lack of ornamentation in a more fleshed-out image.

This writer applauds the UK IPO for taking on this important question, and offering applicants more guidance on what to do and how to do it, so as to avoid any unwanted decisions like in Trunki. Designs are an often overlooked feature within IP, not helped by many questions such as this swirling in its vicinity, and proactive addressing of issues such as here should help things progress into a more accepted and used space for applicants.

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