Lawyers Nicholas Lauw and Leow Jiamin explain in the first of a short series of articles they’re writing for Indesignlive.sg about IP issues for furniture designers.
1 August, 2018
The question posed in the title of this article to a certain extent assumes that furniture design is protected by copyright in the first place, which may not be the case.
Copyright subsists (among other things) in ‘artistic works’. Apart from paintings, sculpture and drawings, ‘artistic works’ also include ‘a work of artistic craftsmanship’. One-of-a-kind, hand-made pieces of designer furniture are likely to be considered as works of artistic craftsmanship, and protected by copyright. Separately, if a designer creates a drawing for a piece of furniture, there is copyright protection in that drawing and any three-dimensional representation of the drawing (i.e. the furniture itself), assuming limited numbers of three-dimensional representations are created.
In these specific situations, the law of copyright affords a decent amount of protection with relatively little outlay. Copyright naturally subsists upon creation of the artistic work without further need for registration.
However, things become more complicated when dealing with mass-produced designer furniture, or single pieces of more generic furniture lacking in ‘artistic craftsmanship’.
The latter is unlikely to be protected at all under intellectual property laws. With regard to the former, under Singapore law, any copyright protection in two-dimensional design drawings will be lost if more than 50 pieces of three-dimensional objects are produced from those drawings and offered for sale. A designer of mass-produced furniture will need to obtain grant for a registered design. In order to successfully obtain grant for a registered design, the design has to be new (the design must not have been registered or published in Singapore or anywhere else in the world prior to the date of filing). Further, a registered design only lasts for a maximum of 15 years.
It is therefore a point of caution to all designers to not assume that copyright protection subsists in all works that they have created and nothing more needs to be done, as they may be one step removed from being able to protect their designs.
In our next article, we will be covering the topic of when a demand can be issued against infringers and its associated pitfalls – stay tuned.
Lawyers Nicholas Lauw (Partner) and Leow Jiamin (Associate) are from Rajah & Tann Singapore – a branch of Rajah & Tann Asia, which has a presence in ten countries around Asia. They handle both contentious and non-contentious intellectual property, technology and regulatory matters for a wide range of clients. Jiamin participated in the Launch Pad Asia 2018 Mentoring Workshop for emerging designers, which was held at Schiavello Singapore in May.
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