When creating a new piece, a lot of effort goes into its design, which is why it is so important to ensure an designer/artist knows their rights when it comes to intellectual property. Having to go through the law’s complex and difficult jargon can be daunting to many, if not all, but two important intellectual property protections should be understood by designer/artists: design patents and copyright for aesthetic features of objects. However, while they may seem similar, in definition and in practice these two concepts differ, and it is this difference that is crucial for understanding an artist’s rights.
What Are Design Patents?
A design patent protects a new product or method. Under current Italian legal requirements, a patent can be obtained if the product or method is original, contains an innovative move, and is “capable of industrial application” (Thomson Reuters Practical Law). While this leaves the door open for many designs to be patented, some designs are excluded from this protection such as scientific theories, commercial activities, methods of treating the human body, national agricultural registered plants, and many more. In Italy, Ufficio Italiano Brevetti e Marchi (UIBM) is responsible for registering patents. Once the UIBM has granted and filed a patent application, the design becomes protected for 20 years from that date.
What Is copyright?
Copyright for a design protects original and creative work of an author/artist. In most cases, the design is non-utilitarian, which means the design can exist on its own for aesthetic, and not industrial purposes. Legal requirements state that the designed piece must express an author or artist’s personality. Objects eligible for protection under copyright include literature, artistic work (painting, drawing, sculpture), music, films, photography, software, and broadcasting. Currently in Italy a copyright protection does not require registration, but it is advised.
Registration with the Società Italiana degli Autori ed Editori (SIAE) gives the designer proof of date of creation and their name becomes associated with the piece. An important note is that once copyright protection has been granted, the protection starts immediately from the time of creation of the piece. In Italy, this protection can last for two different periods of time depending on what the protection is covering; moral rights protection is constant and never-ending, while economic rights protection covers the creator’s lifetime and an additional 70 years after the creator’s death.
Some pieces can be protected by both copyright and design patents. However, it is still important to know which one adequately protects the ornamental design. Furthermore, each protection has its own application procedure and unique requirements, as evident above. Choosing the correct protection means understanding which requirements the piece fulfills, and for how long it can remain protected by intellectual property law.