Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Copyrighting Design Inspiration

So when Heidi Klum gets sued by Van Cleef and Arpels does it represent a terminal shift in the way the business of design is conducted? A $25,000 lawsuit doesn't seem much of an amount for Van Cleef and Arpels (though it may be big for a budding designer in Heidi) yet the repercussion of the lawsuit could be huge in the business of design. Is this really a precedent for industry wide litigation fest or is this just a minor show of strength between two designers?


Can design be patented or copyrighted? Really?
Van Cleef and Arpels claims that Heidi Klum's design company copied the Van Cleef And Arpel's Alhambra jewelry. Alhambra jewelry is a derivative of Clover design pioneered by Coco Chanel and others. Whether Heidi Klum's company copied the designs is another matter but a bigger question is the protection offered to designers by law. Clearly, patents and copyright laws are not sufficient to protect designers. A patent can protect a chemical formula of a drug made by Pfizer but how can it enforce the copying of designs. Designs are conceived from inspiration and can inspiration be copyright protected? It is the derivation of these inspirations that manifest in the designs that we have to love. There appears to be a very narrow band within which copyright and patent laws offer protection to designers.

Lost Revenues or Lost Identity?
Another difficulty is the assessment of reparations for lost sales over copying of designs. On what basis can a company claim a specific amount as compensation for copying? Van Cleef and Arpels may well have pulled out the $25,000 amount on the ability to pay rather than actual losses they may have suffered. Jewelry Designs are forms of art rather are very difficult to value. Companies can year over year sales and can come up with a number but it is really all that a company lost?

We at design depot believe that copied design result in a loss of identity which is a far significant loss than any lost revenue. Directly copied designs are a blow below the belt that breaks the unwritten code of honor among designers. It may serve as a business strategy to make quick profits but it can never result in a sustained competitive advantage and a lasting brand image.

Brand image and jewelry designs are inexplicably linked. Every jewelry brand have their signature collections. These collections may morph over time but they represent the true identity of the brand. This identity does not depend on the designer but the brand and its brand managers. For example, Van Cleef and Arpels designs are inspired by nature and fantasy. Is it possible that Van Cleef Arpels is signaling to all the inspiring designers that they will fight tooth and nail and not take any competition lightly?

It remains to be seen how this lawsuit out in the end....
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