A famous naval designer John Swarbrick - who designed the 12 meter yachts Kookaburra I and Kookaburra II - designed a new yacht, the JS 9000. He built a full scale model.
Mr Burge used the full-scale model to reproduce the JS 9000. The designer Swarbrick sued Burge for infringing the copyright in the mould of the full scale model.
In the High Court, Mr Swarbrick lost his copyright claim because his work didn't amount to 'a work of artistic craftsmanship.' The learning from the case is that people with industrial designs should consider registering them.
To protect design rights, a designer can either:
However, copyright law does not protect designs used, or intended to be used, in an industrial process. This limit aims to avoid the potentially stifling effects of recognising lengthy copyright protection for industrial designs. The limit is to some extent balanced by, effectively, an exception which gives copyright protection to 'a work of artistic craftsmanship.' This is the phrase considered in the recent High Court case of Burge v Swarbrick.
The Court rejected Mr Swarbrick's claim and found that the design of the yacht was not a 'work of artistic craftsmanship'. The Court did so on the basis that:
For Mr Swarbrick's yacht, the Court ruled that the full scale model of the JS 9000 was not a work of artistic craftsmanship because it was designed primarily for functional rather than aesthetic reasons. Effectively, the 'matters of visual and aesthetic appeal were but one of a range of considerations in the design' and were of secondary importance compared with the functional objective of developing a high-speed yacht.
The High Court said that:
'it may be impossible, and certainly would be unwise, to attempt any exhaustive and fully predictive identification of what can and cannot amount to "a work of artistic craftsmanship". However, determining whether a work is "a work of artistic craftsmanship" does not turn on assessing the beauty or aesthetic appeal of work or on assessing any harmony between its visual appeal and its utility. The determination turns on assessing the extent to which the particular work's artistic expression, in its form, is unconstrained by functional considerations.'
The Court's decision is unlikely to afford great comfort for designers or their clients in respect of designs that are prepared in potentially ambiguous areas which may include printing, weaving and furniture making. Accordingly, designers or their clients who consider there may be prospects of designs being used for mass production should seek advice on how best to protect their interests in the original design.
If you would like more information concerning this topic, or protection of intellectual property rights generally, please contact Maddocks and ask for a member of our Intellectual Property & Technology team:
Julian Smith is a partner in the Maddocks Commercial team.
Julian advises extensively in the following areas:
Julian advises clients ranging from public companies servicing the wholesale financial services market to high net worth individuals and their advisers.
Julian has been with Maddocks since undertaking articles in 2001.
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