World Intellectual Property Day: Designing the Future


Posted by Jason Albert
Associate General Counsel for IP Policy & Strategy, Microsoft

Today marks World Intellectual Property Day, an annual celebration of the role intellectual property plays in shaping the world around us. The theme for this year’s celebration is Designing the Future, with a focus on “the role of design in the marketplace, in society and in shaping the innovations of the future.”

Given that design protection has traditionally focused on physical products – the shape of Hershey’s Kisses or the VW bug – it might not be intuitively obvious why a software company should be excited about this form of IP. But designs play an increasingly important role in the technology sector. Whether it is the elegant physical design of a smartphone or the innovative user interface of a software application, good design drives market enthusiasm for technology products. And as more and more of our daily activities migrate online and to the cloud, designs will migrate from the shapes of things made in factories to the shapes of things rendered on computer screens.

Many countries around the world recognize this fact, and make design protection available for both virtual and physical products. Unfortunately, others still restrict design protection to purely physical items. This makes less and less sense as specialized physical designs are increasingly replaced by more advanced virtual user interfaces. With “soft” buttons on a touchscreen replacing mechanical buttons and physical keyboards, and customers becoming more likely to visit an Internet storefront than a brick-and-mortar one, it will become increasingly important that design protection extend to the online world.   Strong design protection in the online environment will help drive continued innovation and differentiation in the cloud.

Finally, don’t forget to “like” World Intellectual Property Day on Facebook.  And check out events and activities occurring in your region.

Comments (3)

  1. harley lewin says:

    As an attorney engaged in global brand protection efforts, I could not agree more with the above.  Unfortunately much of the World is yet to embrace even hard product design when it involves something a bit less tangible than the outline of a product. For example, the United States has well settled law permitting colors as marks.  The EU at the same time is grappling with the very issue of color as a mark.  While the UK has the Dyson decision, which makes great sense, QC in the UK are intepreting the Dyson decision to require virtual metes and bounds to be specified when registering color on an object.  The reality is that packaging, whether in hard retail form in a four-wall environment or on a screen on the internet, serves a huge purpose in bringing a consumer's eye to rest on the object and thence leading that same consumer in a particular direction.  Effort needs to be strong and continuing to protect these important branding elements.  They signify source the same way any other more traditional trademark does.

  2. gregory lent says:

    who bought that, to make it a "day"?

    about forty years from now, when collective consciousness is a known reality, your work will look amusingly quaint. 🙂

  3. Dave Lane says:

    Hi Jason, you talk about the ability to "protect" ideas and "designs"… actually, the sort of protection you talk about is both anathema to society which, after all, is built on the sharing of ideas, standards, mores, and knowledge. That's what all our media does. That's what the internet is: a giant copying machine. That's what 3D printers will be in the next few years.

    I'm all for acknowledging someone else for their work, as is the role of copyright and trademark. I don't however think this idea of "protecting" designs is either necessary or desirable for society. I think it's unfortunate that many people (largely through the self-interested machinations of lawyers) have the idea that they are entitled to "protecting" their ideas. From what? From someone else wanting to do something useful with them?

    Protecting the specific *expression* of an idea is one thing, and fine by me – it's a matter of enforcing "credit where credit is due".

    But precluding someone else from legitimately having the *same idea* independent of the first person like patents do, is not ok.

    I suspect your post is designed to butter people up to accept and expanded role for patents. I think this is a very slippery slope, and a very bad idea.

    By all means trademark a unique brand. But leave our shared culture out of it. Put it out there and make money off it by all means, but please don't try to use the law as a way of subjugating creativity, creating artificial scarcity in our new era of abundance.

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