Protecting Designs in America

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Protecting Designs in America

William K. Wells

This book is a primer for designers and attorneys who represent them for protecting product designs from copying by competitors. Particularly for consumer products, designers spend a great effort into making otherwise purely functional items into works of art one enjoys having displayed in their kitchen, bathroom, office, shop, and elsewhere. Yet unscrupulous competitors can copy or mimic the designs often with impunity. To the extent designers have attempted to protect the design through some form, the effort often falls short. Product designers, sometimes referred to as industrial designers, typically are not aware of the plethora of alternatives available to them and which of these offer the best avenue of protection for the lowest cost. Often the lawyers who represent them are so focused on one particular approach, while other alternatives are overlooked.

This book brings to light the various modes of protection for designers with detailed analysis of each from a real-world perspective. The three major modes of intellectual property rights for designers are design patents, trademarks or trade dress, and copyright. Each of these has its own special characteristics that make it a good or bad choice depending on the nature of the design and the willingness of the designer to bear the costs and effort in securing the rights.

Some rights may be obtained relatively easily but extremely difficult to enforce. Others may require additional effort and cost up front but will bear more fruit when asserted against an infringer. The book breaks down each IP right into the ease of obtaining the right, remedies associated with each, and the challenges in enforcing them.

For attorneys, the book combines in one place the advantages and disadvantages of each mode of protection with discussion of relevant case law and statutes. Most attorneys have expertise in at least one of the three major modes of protection but not all three. This material will enable attorneys to better appreciate other areas of specialty in advising clients. Similarly, the designer will be able to assess the individual attorney’s expertise and, if necessary, bring together a multi-disciplined approach to protect a unique product design.