Overall impression – design features
According to the definition, an industrial design is a new and individual form of a product or part thereof, given to it in particular by the features of lines, contours, shapes, colours, texture or material of the product and by its ornamentation. The legislator pointed out that an industrial design is characterised by an individual character if the general impression it makes on the informed user differs from the general impression made on him by another industrial design previously available.
The issue of understanding the general impression created by an industrial design was the subject of a ruling of the Regional Court in Gdańsk published on 24 January 2024. The plaintiff, who is a manufacturer of accessories and furniture for children, in particular balance bikes, filed a lawsuit to order the defendants – who sell a wide range of products, including balance bikes, to cease and desist from infringing the plaintiff’s rights to Community designs. In support of the lawsuit, the plaintiff pointed to the similarities between the solutions used in the disputed products of the defendants and the solutions covered by its exclusive rights. The defendants, on the other hand, considered that, in their opinion, the disputed products give a general impression to an informed user that is different from that evoked by the plaintiff’s products, in particular by placing the defendants’ brand name in visible places and placing them in a different color than on the plaintiff’s products.
The Court of First Instance pointed out that in order to establish that the overall impression is the same as that of a registered design, it is not necessary that all the features of the designs compared are identical.
In order to resolve the case, the Court also referred to the concept of the freedom of the creator, pointing to the fact that this freedom may be limited by legal provisions requiring the use of specific technical solutions or materials in certain cases, as well as by the impossibility of using a different material or shape due to the role that a given product is to play. On the other hand, referring to balance bikes, which are the subject of the proceedings, he pointed out that there are no regulations setting binding requirements as to their characteristics, so the scope of the creator’s freedom may only limit the intended use of the products.
Assessing the evidence presented by the plaintiff, the court found that many of the solutions adopted by the plaintiff in the balance bikes offered by the plaintiff were unusual, concluding that the shapes and contours included in the plaintiff’s Community designs were an expression of the designer’s creative freedom due to the fact that they were not dictated only by the need to provide the products with the necessary functionalities.
The court found that due to the significant diversity of the products available on the market of balance bikes and the duplication of the plaintiff’s industrial designs in the defendants’ products, they evoke the same general impression.
It is impossible not to agree with the judgment of the Regional Court in Gdańsk. The existence of insignificant differences, such as the designation of a trader’s business name on a product in a different colour, is not sufficient to establish that it produces a different overall impression on an informed user, whereas the other features of such a product constitute a duplication of the industrial designs of another trader. As the Court of First Instance pointed out, it is not necessary that all the characteristics of comparable designs be identical, but only that they are such as to mislead an informed trader on the market.
Judgment of the Regional Court in Gdańsk of 16 November 2023 in Case XVII GW 144/21
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