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How Apple became and continues to be big with the help of Design Rights

Hoe Apple groot werd en blijft dankzij modelrecht

"Our design is just as important as the technology used. Nobody wants good technology that has been badly designed." With these words, an Apple lawyer opened the plea in a case against Samsung a couple of years ago. It is a nice start to a plea. I am going to write about how the smart use of intellectual property can help an organisation based on my experience as a design and patent attorney. Apple is a striking example. With good rights and the right attitude, they have acquired an outstanding market position. Customers pay a lot of money for products they can buy for less from a competitor that are of a similar quality. This is largely due to the clever use of design rights.

Patent law

To understand how this works, it is good to know that there are different forms of intellectual property law. It is possible to distinguish patents, design rights, copyrights, trademarks and much more. In order to understand why Apple became and continues to be so big it is good to focus on patents and design rights.

Patents protect innovative technologies. A company like Apple has a huge number of patents, because they develop an incredible amount of technical products with which they try to outdo their competitors. These include computers, laptops, tablets, phones and other innovative products. However, Apple would not have such a huge market share in these products if it had not also paid a great deal of attention to protecting the external features of these products. That is where design rights come in.

How does design right work?

With a patent you protect innovations that solve a technical problem. However, sometimes your innovation may not involve the technology so much, but more, or perhaps even only the appearance of a product or item. A design registration gives you the exclusive right to the design of a product, which gives you the right to take action against counterfeiters of that product with a similar appearance. However not every design registration is the same. Depending on the wording and drawings, many or just a few aspects of a design are protected and you therefore have more or less right to stop competitors.

Apple is very good at design applications with 'broad protection'. What their patent attorneys are good at is looking at a design from a technical perspective. As I mentioned above, there is a difference between patents and designs. To put it simply, one is used to protect a technology and the other to protect a design. However, in the case of many products, especially those made by Apple, technology and design go hand in hand. It is not possible to protect something purely technical with a design, but where there is an interaction, it is. This creates a challenge for patent attorneys. Many patent attorneys have a technical background, many design attorneys have a legal background. Apple's attorneys are a combination of the two.

Broad protection

This is how they manage to create this broad protection. It makes it much more difficult for competitors to copy products. Their product may be inspired by an Apple design, but they cannot use most of the details.

Such a position vis-à-vis your competitors is attractive for every entrepreneur, but for Apple it works extra well because it goes hand in hand with their business strategy. In the eyes of many customers, Apple has an edge over the competition because of their designs. These are often slick and progressive. This makes design a way for Apple to stand out from the rest. It does not only do so by coming up with that design, but also by carefully protecting it.

Relatively inexpensive form of protection

While it is a conscious decision for Apple to be very active in this field, there are plenty of consumer product manufacturers for whom this is a less important issue. It is nevertheless good to be aware of the possibilities offered by intellectual property law; how the mechanism works, how you can strengthen your position in the market by making good and smart use of that right. Beautiful and clever designs make Apple a sought-after brand. Good protection ensures that competitors cannot simply encroach on their territory. That way, they can get away with charging much more than their competitors for comparable technologies.

The fact that design protection is a relatively inexpensive form of intellectual property protection is an added bonus. It is much less expensive to apply for and maintain design rights than it is a patent. However, it is advisable to have this done by a patent attorney who is familiar not only with design rights but also with patents. With a good combination of technical and legal knowledge, he or she can provide comparable, broad protection that your company can rely on.