Protecting the Industrial Designs of Today and the Future
This study examines and critiques New Zealand intellectual property protection for industrial designs, taking into account that many New Zealand industrial design owners outsource manufacture of their designs to China. Industrial design, which refers to improving the aesthetics of products to increase their marketability, is evolving conceptually and practically. In New Zealand, copyright and registered design laws each protect, respectively, the visual expression and the “eye appeal” of an original design. As design practices evolve with advances in technology however, it is increasingly evident that industrial design is about more than just visual expression or “eye appeal”. Many designers are not focusing solely on product stylisation and decoration, but on the provision of a more holistic product experience for the consumer. The development process of industrial designs from concept to marketable product is also changing, with many New Zealand industrial design owners employing increasingly efficient design development strategies. The fast-paced, cost-effective infrastructure of China is often utilised by New Zealand businesses for the manufacture of industrial designs. This study therefore sought to determine how to appropriately protect New Zealand industrial designs, in light of: a. foreseeable advances in technology; and b. the fact that many New Zealand industrial designs are manufactured in China. To answer these questions, this study examined and analysed New Zealand’s copyright and registered design laws, taking into account not only existing protections, but also factors that are likely to be of significant relevance in the future, such as the impact on industrial design from developments in 3D printing and virtual reality. The Chinese intellectual property regime for industrial designs was also examined because China is a major trading partner and often, as noted, the locus of manufacture. The study included an empirical investigation, in the form of interviews with designers and design academics as well as legal practitioners specialising in intellectual property law. The input of the interviewees, together with the legal analysis, informed a series of suggestions and recommendations for New Zealand policy and its law-makers regarding how industrial design protection can be improved. A key finding of this study was that existing legal protections do not appropriately protect increasingly holistic designs, as well as new types of designs emerging from developing fields such as virtual reality. In assessing the appropriateness of protection, the interests of industrial design owners were balanced against the public interest in protecting the public domain. It is suggested that to achieve equilibrium copyright law should be expanded to protect design expressions for all senses. Moreover, new categories of copyright protected works should be introduced to accommodate emerging design. The definition of design in registered design law should also be reconceptualised in order to acknowledge new types of designs and evolving design practices. Industrial design owners who outsource manufacturing to China can protect their designs via copyright as well as design patent. However, enforcement of intellectual property protection is unsatisfactory in many areas of China. Therefore, New Zealand industrial design owners should also employ non-legal protection strategies. Interviews with successful businesses, in the course of the empirical investigation for this study, revealed that the leveraging of existing relationships of those with already established operations in China, and intentionally splitting an industrial design’s component parts for manufacture among several factories in different locations, are useful strategies to employ.