Lori-Ann Johnson

For Atlanta companies seeking to protect their intellectual property on an international stage, protection of industrial designs is about to become much easier. Thanks to the long-anticipated move by the United States to join an international registration system, it will be easier for local corporations to globally protect their intellectual property. 

The Hague Agreement for Industrial Designs is a streamlined registration system administered by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) to protect exclusivity in the visual design of objects. The Coca-Cola Co., for example, holds many design patents, including one for the shape of its recognizable bottle, that need to be protected around the world. Now, with the United States’ participation in the Hague Agreement, this creates a nearly one-stop process for protecting designs internationally. Design owners will be able to obtain protection by filing just one application in WIPO or the United States Patent and Trademark Office. That means applications require only one fee and can be written in one language (English, French or Spanish). 

Sixty-two other nations or intergovernmental organizations already are parties to the agreement, including the European Union and the African Intellectual Property Organization. Japan is expected to become party to the agreement very shortly. Efforts are underway to eventually bring in China, Russia and Canada – three key players who are still wrestling with the changes to their domestic laws that will be necessary for them to join. 

U.S. implementation of the agreement went into effect in May, providing a boost to our robust national design community. According to WIPO, 8.2 percent of all design applications worldwide were filed by U.S. applicants in 2013. Apple recently benefitted from design protection on the shape and look of its iPhone. Other iconic designs protected by industrial design rights include Google’s home page and luxury goods, like Céline handbags, Ferragamo shoes and Louis Vitton luggage.

Signing on to the Hague Agreement is the continuation of a decades-long movement toward worldwide harmonization of industrial design patents. 

As consumers have embraced online sales, many local businesses have the potential for a worldwide market, and this will be a powerful tool for them. This is particularly good news for Atlanta companies that may have the desire to protect their products internationally, but may not have the resources. 

Lori-Ann Johnson is an Atlanta-based shareholder at Chamberlain Hrdlicka, where she counsels clients on the value management of their portfolios, and helps companies understand – and capitalize – on the legal and commercial significance of their IP rights and business objectives. She may be reached at (404) 658-5496 or by email at lori.johnson@chamberlainlaw.com