Serif in Education

The battle between “fair” design, copyrights and patents

Something interesting caught my attention this week in the press which raised a few important questions.  An article by BBC news reported on a recent court battle faced by the founder of Trunki suitcases, in which they lost against a rival company over product design.

Magmatic – which sells the children’s ride-on cases decorated to look like animals or insects – lost out in a Supreme Court ruling in which the court decided rival PMS International’s Kiddee Case range didn’t infringe registered design rights.

Rob Law, creator and CEO of Trunki, tweeted he was “devastated” with the outcome, adding that he was “bewildered by this judgment, not just for ourselves but for the huge wave of uncertainty it brings to designers in Britain”.  As a result, the #ProtectYourDesign Twitter campaign was launched by Trunki with the aim of getting “more robust protection” for designers. 

But how difficult is it for a court or others to understand design law, and in effect design or create something that is indeed truly “unique” in a crowded marketplace?

Michael Moore, partner at intellectual property law firm Marks & Clerk, said judges had to “strike a balance between fair protection and free competition”.

The fact is that during the last 20 years there have been a lot of inventions which have shaped the way we live today.  Most of these ideas have revolutionised our world – the introduction of “apps” for example, which can allow us to do almost anything.  This has meant that for most, the design limits for new products, projects and the scope of design has become more daring and unique, allowing for more creativity.  And more business opportunity!  However this has led to an increase in things being replicated or copied at over half the price in some cases of original innovation.  This competition is often healthy and has benefits to us as a consumer.  For example, there is hardly ever one supplier in the market enabling us to haggle, shop around and in many cases have much more choice.  However, for small businesses this can lead to their profit margins being squeezed to an unachievable amount, or becoming flattened by large multinationals who have buying monopoly over the rest of the market.

At Serif we love creativity, and we think it is always a good idea to approach the subject with pupils when they start on the computer with either design, computer graphics, or computer coding, that being creative is just that – the use of imagination or original ideas to create something different and inventive.

Copyright protects artistic and literary expression.  Today it covers a broad variety of creative expression from email, to websites, to video games. Computer software can be protected by both copyright law (as a literary work) and, when applicable, by patent law. According to our research online, virtually all video games were produced post 1978. This means their copyrights are not due to expire for 70 years past the death of the author. The only exceptions would be games produced as “work-for-hire” which have a term of either 95 years past publication or 125 years post creation, whichever is shorter. 

However it is clear that the best advice can be got from a Trademark or Patent lawyer.  These may not be cheap, but can save you a lot of money and time in the long run.  Your Intellectual Property can be a big business asset, so it is important to deal with it in the correct way.  Make sure any new ideas are checked before being brought to market for IP issues. Make sure you register trademarks and other IP so you are fully protected. And make sure you are always ahead of the game and keep up to date with the market, your registrations and IP law.

There is sometimes a clear distinction between someone deliberately copying and replicating someone else’s ideas and someone who has genuinely made an unknown mistake, but unfortunately in a world where there is a law to protect us there is no room for those mistakes and always better to be safe than sorry!

You can read the full article from the BBC here: