Intellectual property consists of four regimes of law that govern different aspects of human creations – that’s why it is called “intellectual” property; they are born from the intelligence and imagination of human beings. These laws are copyright, trademarks, business secrets, and patents.
What do you need for a Copyright?
When we talk about copyright, we are talking about the rights granted to “artistic and literary works” – expressions of an idea set in a tangible medium. Two main components emerge from that definition: (1) the expression of an idea and (2) fixed in a tangible medium.
The first, expression of an idea, refers to the artistic and / or literary work – a novel, drawing, sculpture, photography. The second, fixed in a tangible medium, means giving some kind of permanence to the work through any means, so that it can exist and be perceived. It can be ink and paper for a writing or drawing, wood or stone for sculpture, recording on photographic tape for a photo.
Design objects, whether pieces of furniture, fashion items, mobile applications or any other category, are certainly set in tangible medium. These are brought to life and given permanence through physical and / or technological materials. Then it may be asked, do they not have copyright protection? The short answer is no. While design objects are fixed in tangible mediums, they do not constitute expressions of ideas, as required by law. They are not “artistic and literary works.”
What is the Difference Between art and Design in Regards to Copyright?
If you ask a designer, he or she will tell you that there is a crucial difference between design and art. That difference is typically in the utility of the design object. The purpose of the design is to solve a problem, and that this solution be intuitive and improves processes, and makes things more beautiful. Hence a duality between the function and the aesthetics of the design object. As with a shoe, watch or t-shirt, functional elements and aesthetic elements coexist in its design.
Examining the design in the light of the definition of copyright, “the expression of an idea set in a tangible medium”, we realize that design goes beyond being the expression of an idea. The design, in addition to expressing the idea, has a functional component. Due to its functional nature, the design is mostly protected by the patent regime and not copyright.
For an object, process, design and / or formula to have access to the protections granted by patents, it has to meet three requirements – be novel, useful and not obvious. While copyright protects artistic and literary works, expressions of ideas set in a tangible medium; design consists of solving a problem in the most efficient and beautiful way. For this reason, design objects are generally not protected by copyright and are governed by the patent regime.
However, there are portions and design processes that can be protected by copyright. For example, plans of a building, or sketches or drawings of a car – any expression of an idea set in a tangible medium. But only that particular expression is protected. If you make a sketch of what later turns out to be Samsung’s new smartphone, only the drawing is protected, not the cell phone that is then developed.
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