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The Unprotected Tile Design: A Cautionary Tale of Copyright vs. Patent

posted 4 weeks ago

It was a battle over creative rights in the tile design industry that landed in the halls of the Intellectual Property and International Trade Court of Thailand. The plaintiffs, two entities in the business of manufacturing decorative tiles, brought allegations of copyright infringement against four defendants.

Fact Briefing: The plaintiffs were the mold designers who crafted unique, modern tile patterns with shapes, sizes, and appearances distinct from the traditional tiles commonly found in the Thai market. While their design efforts paid off in an innovative product, they failed to take the proper legal steps to safeguard their creative work through patent filings.

The dispute centered around the actions of the defendants – four rival companies that obtained the plaintiffs’ mold designs and proceeded to manufacture and sell tiles mimicking the unique patterns. This sparked allegations from the plaintiffs of copyright violations and misappropriation of trade secrets.

Analysis: As the case progressed, the court narrowed the key issues to determining: 1) whether the plaintiffs actually held copyrights in the tile designs, 2) if the defendants infringed those rights, and 3) the appropriate damages.

Examining the relevant intellectual property laws, the Supreme Court, decision no. 5073/2557, found that while the plaintiffs’ tile mold design qualified as a new “product design” under the Patent Act, it did not meet the criteria for an artistic “sculptural work” eligible for, protection under the Copyright Act. A fatal misstep by the plaintiffs was their failure to file for a petty patent, which left their design unprotected and free for others to legally exploit.

Decision:
Ruling in favor of the defendants, the court concluded that the plaintiffs’ tile designs, while novel, were not copyrightable subject matter. Without a valid copyright, the actions of the defendants utilizing the same patterns could not constitute infringement. The plaintiffs’ loss highlighted the crucial distinction between patented product designs and copyrighted artistic creations under Thai law.

Key Takeaways: The case underscores the importance for designers and inventors to thoroughly understand and navigate the intellectual property protection pathways available. While copyright safeguards creative expressions like art and literature, it does not extend to functional product designs in most jurisdictions. To secure exclusive rights over an innovative product, one must pursue patent registration – a critical lesson for maintaining a competitive edge in fields where form meets function. The plaintiffs’ oversight allowed open season on their prized tile patterns, lost to the public domain by not taking the proper patenting measures.

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