Whenever one talks about design, the initial thought that comes into one's mind is the appearance or the aesthetic sense of a particular product but does not have any relation with the functional utility of the product. Applying this, manufacturers give attention to the design of their product in order to attract customers towards the same. As the purpose behind intellectual property rights is to safeguard originality, the creative originality of a design demands legal security to prevent misappropriation, copying, and unauthorized usage of itself. It was the 2008 case of Bharat Glass Tube Ltd v. Global Glass Works where the Supreme Court of India observed that the term "new or original" that appears under Section 4 of the Design Act, 2000 signifies that neither had the registered designs made known to the public nor had it been published before. This article provides a broad overview of the design law in India, the benefits that are provided by the legislation, the loopholes causing hindrance in the functioning of the same, and the possible solutions for effective implementation of the design law in India.
Design Act, 2000
Before the Design Act, 2000 came into the picture, it was the Design Act, 1911 which was modified with progress in the field of science and technology to take the shape of the former. The Delhi High Court's observation in the well-known case of Microfibres Inc v. Girdhar &Co marked a significant step to the development of the term "design" as the Court held that the term is inclusive of colors and composition of lines. This instead also clarifies the confusion the Act of 2000 had with the Copyright Act, 1957. A summarized version of some of the salient features of the Act of 2000 has been provided hereunder;
The definitions of the term "articles", "designs" and "original" have been provided with a divergent perspective in the Act of 2000.
The ambit of "prior publication" has been applied by the legislation of 2000.
The concept of delegation of powers from the Controller to other officers has been introduced by this Act.
Secrecy of two years of a registered design has been provided.
The Act identified non-registerable designs.
Provisions for restoration of the designs which are lapsed have been laid down under this Act.
While Section 5 of the Act provides the list of individuals or groups entitled to seek registration of their designs, Section 44 of the Act lays down the provision for registration of designs by foreigners in India on the basis of reciprocity and priority dates. It is necessary to note the decision made by the court of law in the case of Castrol India Ltd v. Tide Water Oil Co. (I) Ltd. which highlighted cases of design infringement. The Court held that the question that it should consider in infringement cases is whether the similarity is an imitation of the design which has been registered already and is sufficient enough to cause hindrance to the exclusive right that the owner of the registered design possesses.
Section 22 of the Act provides legal remedies that are available to the aggrieved party which are damages and/or injunction. The court of law in the notable case of Indo Asahi Glass Co. Ltd v. Jai Mata Rolled Glass Ltd. where the defendant had pleaded before the Court that it was the plaintiff who had registered a design similar to the former, held that until the concerned design was canceled, the defendant was not to be convicted in the infringement case.
Loopholes surrounding the Design Act, 2000
The Design Act of 2000 comes with a set of detriments that affects the functioning of the Act as a whole;
Procedural issues are given importance by the Act which thereby rejects the bulk of designs that comes for registration.
With only 15 years of protection available under the Act, companies often opt for trademark or copyright protection instead of protection available under the Design Act of 2000.
Almost 98% of the designs are protected under the Designs Act but then also they get copied by the small firms.
With most of the infringements getting unnoticed, this legislation lacks proper enforceability.
Although the online registration process exists when it comes to designs, the majority of the companies, individuals fail to avail themselves of the same due to lack of awareness.
Although these are not the only drawbacks of the legislation, highlighting a few gives the idea about the functioning of the Act as a whole. Raising awareness, increasing flexibility, degree of protection offered are some of the major changes that need to be brought about for India to have an effective design statute and in line with other intellectual property rights.