|Cross Frame Chair (1952)|
The Swiss artist and industrial designer Max Bill (1908-1994) designed among others in 1952 the "Kreuzzargenstuhl" (cross frame chair) and in 1955/1964 a bar stool (see pictures). These were produced for decades by the furniture manufacturer Horgenglarus.
After Max Bill's death in 1994, his copyrights in his works were passed on to the Bill Foundation, which entered into a license agreement with Horgenglarus. In 2001, the Bill Foundation terminated the license. Horgenglarus kept manufacturing and selling the cross frame chair and bar stool designed by Max Bill, arguing that they did not enjoy copyright protection under Swiss law because they did not have the necessary individual character to be considered "works" in the sense of copyright law.
|Bar Stool (1955/1964)|
On appeal by the Bill Foundation, the Federal Supreme Court reversed the decision regarding the bar stool. It restated that the degree of individuality (originality) required for a work to have individual character depended on the degree of freedom the category of works permitted. If the degree of freedom was limited, even minor deviations from known designs could convey individual character. On the other hand, if the design was entirely determined by technical considerations, there was no room for individual character. For chairs and stools, the degree of freedom was quite large, certainly their form was not determined exclusively by technical considerations.
The lower court had erroneously applied a "mosaic" approach to the assessment of individual character. It was irrelevant that all the elements of Max Bill's stool - the round seat, the three legs, the angle of the legs - were known in the prior art (see picture). Relevant was the overall impression of the design. The individual elements had never been combined in the way Max Bill combined them. The work was unique.
The design was also not determined exclusively by technical considerations. While each element served a technical purpose, the same purpose could be served by other forms (e.g., a square instead of a round seat).
|Prior Art for the Bar Stool|
While this decision concerns Swiss law, UK courts likely will soon have to grapple with the question when a furniture design is a "work of artistic craftsmanship" in the sense of the Copyright, Design and Patents Act 1988 after the repeal of section 52 CDPA.
Decision 4A_115/2017 of 12 July 2017.
Disclaimer: the firm I am working for represented the Bill Foundation in the proceedings against Horgenglarus.
Copyright protection of minimalist furniture design Reviewed by Mark Schweizer on Wednesday, July 26, 2017 Rating: