Cinderella goes to the Ball – Stateside

Cinderella goes to the Ball – Stateside

This intriguing title is the name of a learning collaboration between the University of Cumbria law degree (LLB Law) programme and Coastal Pines Technical College (Paralegal Studies) in the state of Georgia, USA. Both institutions have formed an alliance that enables their law students to learn from each other and to discuss the similarities and differences, the benefits and challenges of each other’s legal systems. Yesterday saw the two groups of students engage in an intense debate across the Atlantic via Skype.

The topic in question was Intellectual Property (IP) rights in design, which have for many years been the ‘poor relation’ in the IP family.  Across the European Union, the situation has not been helped because of a maze of complexity around overlapping copyright protection and the various forms of design rights that have been made available, at both the national and European level.  

In the United States however, the legislature has sought to separate out artistic works, that are subject to copyright protection, and industrial designs.  The latter may be the subject of design patents and these have suddenly risen in stature in the USA, following the award in 2012 of almost $1 billion in damages in the landmark Apple v Samsung case, which concerned allegations of copying in relation to certain design features of various Samsung devices that were the subject of Apple’s design patents in the USA.  

The question was: with the UK about to start charting its own path out of the European Union, is there a case to be made for us to discard the complicated European regime and adopt instead a US-style, strong legal system for the protection of designs?  Or does the existing European regime, while undeniably complex, provide a less costly way in which design innovators can protect their work?

This seminar provided an opportunity for Coastal Pines Technical College students and their counterparts at the University of Cumbria to explore together the alternative forms of legislature, to volunteer their opinions on the effectiveness of the US legal system for the protection of designs and to gain insights into the comparable rights available in the UK.

University of Cumbria principal law lecturer Ann Thanaraj and module tutor Dr Duncan Curley explain: “The Apple v Samsung case in the USA was widely reported here in the UK, but little was said about the Apple design patents that underpinned that decision. With the process for the UK’s exit from the European Union now having been triggered by the Prime Minister, an opportunity may arise to streamline the legal protection available for industrial designs in this country and potentially make IP protection more accessible and attractive to the next generation of innovative designers.”

Image shows Ann Thanaraj and Dr Duncan Curley.