International design activity saw strong growth in 2010 with WIPO receiving 2,382 applications under the 57-member Hague Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Industrial Designs, or a 32.6% increase over the previous year. The number of registered designs that were filed by applicants from the following countries increased significantly in 2010 compared to 2009: Germany (+31%), Switzerland (+42%), Turkey (+108%), Austria (+48%), Spain (+541%), and Luxembourg (+271%). Similarly, international design registrations grew by 31.8% with a total 2,216 registrations in 2010 (table 1).
“Designs are a valuable means of product differentiation, often determining the success of one product over a comparable one. While many companies invest large sums of money and expertise to develop winning designs, good designs can also be developed at low cost and provide a high return on investment,” said WIPO Director General Francis Gurry. He added “The significant growth in filings under the Hague system shows that, in spite of difficult economic times, companies continue to invest in protecting industrial design.”
The theme of this year’s World Intellectual Property Day on April 26, 2011 – “Designing the Future” – seeks to highlight the role of design in product differentiation and the contribution of designers to society and innovation.
Regional and National Filing Trends
Among major users, applicants in Germany ranked first, registering 2,864 designs, or 26.9% of the total. They were followed by applicants from Switzerland (2,635 designs, 24.8%), France (998 designs, 9.4%), the Netherlands (867 designs, 8.2%), and the United States of America (811 designs, 7.6%). Applicants from Italy, Turkey, Austria, Spain and Luxembourg were also among the top ten filers, each with more than 200 designs filed for protection in 2010 (table 2).
The international design system allows an applicant who does not reside in a country that is a member of the Hague system to apply for protection so long as applicants have a connection to a contracting party – be it a state or an intergovernmental organization. This was notably the case of American applicants.
Designation Trends in International Registrations
In 2010, WIPO recorded 10,741 designations of contracting parties in international registrations, representing a 6.3% increase over the previous year. This relatively low rate of increase in designations as compared to registrations is because many applicants designated the European Union as a block rather than designating those individual European Union members that are also members of the Hague Agreement.
In 2010, the European Union was the most designated member in terms of designs for which protection was requested under the Hague system. It was designated with respect to 7,897 (70.3%) of the total 11,238 designs recorded by WIPO that year (see Table 5, below). The next most designated countries were Switzerland with 7,736 designs (69%), Turkey (4,589 designs, 41%) and Singapore (2,448 designs, 22%) (see table 3).
The Procter & Gamble Company (USA) topped the list of largest users with 127 design applications in 2010. P&G was followed by Koninklijke Philips Electronics N.V. (The Netherlands), Vestel Beyaz Esya (Turkey), Volkswagen Aktiengesellschaft (Germany), Gillette Company (USA), Daimler AG (Germany), Pi-Design AG (Switzerland), Swatch AG (Switzerland), Braun GmbH (Germany) and Société des Produits Nestlé (Switzerland).
Profile and Costs of Registrations Recorded in 2010
In 2010, 11.4 % of the recorded designs were in the field of the packages (mostly for foodstuff and cosmetics) and the containers for the transport and handling of goods, such as plastic bottles. This was followed by clocks and watches (9.1%), and furnishing (8.3%) (table 4).
In 2010, 2,216 international registrations containing 11,238 designs were recorded, which is an average of 5 designs per international registration. This amount increased by 26.7% compared with 2009. During the same period, the number of designations of member states per registration increased by 6.3%.
At the end of 2010, 25,633 registrations were active. These registrations contained 107,834 active designs. The number of right holders amounted to 7,919, or a 2.5% over 2009. The majority of rights holders (96.02%) own a portfolio of registrations amounting to a maximum of 10 designs, showing extensive use by small and medium-sized enterprises (table 5).
The average amount of fees paid with respect to an international registration was 1,655 Swiss francs.
Of all the international registrations recorded by WIPO in 2010, 89.1% required fees amounting to less than 3,000 Swiss francs.
The Hague system offers users a cost-effective and user-friendly means of obtaining protection for an industrial design by filing a single application. Without the system, and because industrial design protection is limited to the territory where protection is sought, a designer would have to file separate applications in each of those in which protection is sought. Under the system, a single application is made for as many members as selected by the applicant. Members’ offices then have a limited period of time to examine whether a new international registration can be granted protection in their territory. After this, the effects of the international registration are the same as if all the designs contained therein had been registered directly with each of the offices concerned.
The system thus offers both front-end and long-term advantages. For example, an average application made for 5 designs and covering the whole of the European Union plus a handful of neighboring States such as Switzerland, Turkey and Norway would cost about four times less in filing fees alone than if national or regional applications were made individually with each office. To this important saving must be added the savings in terms of legal representation and filing related services as well as the general savings resulting from the fact that a single application dealing with a single set of requirements has to be prepared and prosecuted. But the beauty of the system lies in its long term advantages as the international applicant ends up with a single yet flexible international registration that can be centrally managed, for all designs and all territories.
The Hague system rests on three different versions of the Hague Agreement, which are referred to as “Acts”, and each having its own membership. Recently, efforts have stepped up to simplify use of the Hague system by focusing on the Geneva Act of 1999. Following a decision by the Assembly of the Hague Union, the freezing of the application of the 1934 Act came into operation on January 1, 2010, thus simplifying the legal framework. During 2010, the geographical scope of the Union expanded with Norway, Azerbaijan and Germany joining the Geneva Act (annex). Spanish was added to French and English as a third working language in April 2010.