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India – How Design And Copyright Interact

The intersection between copyright in a pattern and design rights on the same has come for determination before the courts on many occasions. A recent Delhi High Court judgment has clarified the position, on an appeal filed by Microfibres against the order of the single judge. the single judge held that if the design is registered under the Design Act, it would lose its copyright protection under the Copyright Act. when a design is registrable under the Designs Act but has not so been registered, it would continue to enjoy copyright protection under the Copyright Act so long as the threshold limit of its application on an article by an industrial process for more than 50 times is reached. But once that limit is crossed, it would lose its copyright protection under the Copyright Act.

The issue in question was the interpretation of Section 2(c) of the Copyright Act 1957 defining artistic work and Section 2(d) of the Designs Act, 2000 dealing with the definition of the word design in conjunction with Section 15(2) of the Copyright Act, which provides for extinguishment of a copyright in any artistic work when such a drawing is capable of registration as a design, though not so registered, and has been reproduced more than fifty times through an industrial process. Section 15(2) is meant to encourage registration of designs/patterns apt for industrial use under the Designs Act. The Single Judge had taken the same course of thought and had held that the appellant was supposed to register his upholstery patterns on fabrics under the Designs Act and not seek protection under the Copyright Act, since he was engaged in industrial production. The judge had also held that the two important aspects to qualify for design registration are the object with which it is made (which is industrial) and its inability to stand by itself as a piece of art. in fact, it has no independent existence in itself.

Copyright vests in a creation, whether or not it is applied onto any material and whether or not it appeals to the eye, but a design registration can be obtained only when the design is applied to an article and it is judged solely by the eye. Even though it is the exclusive right of the holder of a copyright in an original artistic work to reproduce it in any material form, there is no mandatory requirement of such application for the right to subsist. In this respect, a few lines or curves arbitrarily drawn would qualify as an artistic work. The legislative intent was to grant a higher protection to pure original artistic works such as paintings, sculptures and lesser protection to design activity, which is commercial in nature.

Hence, the appellate court, in upholding the decision of the single judge, held that the Legislature not only limited the protection by mandating that the copyright shall cease under the Copyright Act in a registered design but in addition, also deprived copyright protection to designs capable of being registered under the Design Act, but not so registered, as soon as the concerned design had been applied more than 50 times by an industrial process by the owner of the copyright or his licensee.