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Seminar - Industrial Design: The Delicate Balance Between Incentive To Innovate And Free Competition In Protection Of Complex Products

When: Wednesday, March 6, 2019 - 12:00 to 13:45
Venue: SMU School of Law, 55 Armenian Street, Singapore 179943


In a visually oriented world, manufacturers tend to rely heavily on product design as a market differentiator. Mobile phones, sports equipment, household items, fashion, but also component parts of complex products, such as car parts, razors, coffee maker capsules and printer cartridges, are the subject of registrations under industrial design laws in many countries. As all IP laws, design law seeks to strike a balance between the strong protection advocated by IP owners, on one side, and, on the other, the interests of newcomers to the market, who favor minimalist protection. This tension is particularly obvious in the design of component or complementary parts of complex products, an area in which design protection presents a heightened risk of hindering competition.

The presentation will start out by providing a background on the nature of industrial design, its relation to copyright and patent law, as well as a review of the protection mechanisms available in various jurisdictions, including the EU Design Directive and Regulation and the US design patent.

The core of the presentation examines the issues raised by design protection of “complex products” which consist of multiple component parts. It asks whether and to what extent such component parts are subject to design protection. A relative newcomer to the world of design protection, the question of component part design protection only emerged in the past few decades, brought about by the effect of technological advances and mass production of consumer goods. It came to the attention of policymakers in the 1980s and 1990s. Strong arguments can be made for either position: on the one hand, incentivizing innovation and protection of investment speak in favor of protection. On the other, the specific configuration of complex products potentially leads to monopolization of the secondary market for component parts and exclusion of potential new entrants. Different jurisdictions have adopted different solutions, often dictated by economic policy. This debate is ongoing in jurisdictions worldwide.

Against this background, we will consider what policy levers are available

in order to achieve a balanced solution relating to the design of complex products. We will discuss the applicability and effectiveness of mechanisms that are intrinsic to design law, such as functionality and a “repair clause”, as well as extraneous doctrines, such as implied licenses, compulsory licenses and antitrust/competition law, based on recent case law from Europe and the US.


Dana Beldiman teaches IP law at UC Hastings College of the Law, San Francisco, USA and at Bucerius Law School, Hamburg, Germany. Prof. Dr. Beldiman is the Founder and Academic Director of the Bucerius IP Center, and responsible for all IP involved in research, teaching, international research collaboration and supervision of doctoral candidates. She lectures and speaks at various institutions in the US. Her interests lie in comparative aspects of IP law, with a focus on trademark, design and trade secret law and she has published and spoken extensively in this field. Ms. Beldiman has received legal education in both the US and Germany. In addition to her academic activities, she is a partner with Squire, Patton, Boggs, San Francisco (USA), where she practices primarily IP law and IP-related international transactions.



Kung-Chung LIU holds an LL.B. and LL.M. from National Taiwan University and a Doctorate from the Ludwig Maximilian Universitaet (University of Munich). He was a Research Fellow at Academia Sinica, Taiwan until 2017. In 2003, he was a Visiting Professor at the Faculty of Law of the National University of Singapore and a Visiting Senior Research Fellow for the IP Academy of Singapore. Professor Liu has served as one of the founding Commissioners of the National Communications Commission in Taiwan between 2006 and 2007. In 2014-15, he was a Visiting Professor at the School of Law, Singapore Management University, and the Founding Director of the Applied Research Centre for Intellectual Assets and the Law in Asia (ARCIALA). In addition, he has been co-appointed Professor at the Renmin University, China (2017), and the Graduate Institute of Technology, Innovation & Intellectual Property Management, National Chengchi University, Taiwan (since 2010).

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Last updated on 12 Jun 2019 .