The scope of protection for registered industrial designs is revealed following a recent case involving two of the world’s largest vacuum cleaner manufacturers, Dyson and Vax.
Dyson’s breakthrough technology which created the two-stage cyclone vacuum cleaner led to the design of the cylinder cleaner vacuum. Dyson obtained the industrial design registration for a cylindrical cleaner back in 1949, and it held its novelty in its shape and configuration.
Vax then went on to produce a multi-stage cyclone vacuum cleaner, and were subsequently sued by Dyson in 2009.
The outcome of the court case was that a design for Vax’s multi-stage cyclone vacuum cleaner was permitted as, according to the Judge, their product produced a significantly different impression on the informed user, i.e. a knowledgeable user of the product.
The Judge remarked that while differences and similarities between designs must be considered, it is in the eye of the beholder to register similarities as significant, and to associate the design with pre-existing products. Dyson had argued that similarities included the inclined, clear bin curving up from the wheels showing the cyclone, whereas Vax had considered differences to include the front wheels and rear features.
Following this judgement, it is apparent that a design registration can afford relatively broad protection for the owner, by including any amount of designs which do not produce a different impression on the consumer. However, they cannot expect protection from competitors who create designs with certain similarities, if these similarities are not considered as being significant to somebody with informed consumer-level knowledge of the product.