Design patents, sometimes referred to as industrial designs, protect the aesthetic appearance of a product. As with other registered IP rights, the protection offered is, generally speaking, territorial in scope. In other words, unless international or regional treaties are available, a grant of design rights has to be obtained individually in each country of interest.
The Hague System for the International Registration of Industrial Designs (“Hague System”) is one such treaty that allows for the filing of a single design application for design registration in 93 countries (highlighted in the map below). However, China, despite being one of the world’s top filers of patents and designs, has not to date been a party to the Hague System.
(image source: World Intellectual Property Organization)
This situation will shortly change. On 5th May 2022, China becomes a member of the Hague System. Design applicants will be able to designate China in their international design application and secure protection for their products in one of the world’s largest consumer and manufacturing markets. Further, domestic PRC designers may also utilize the Hague System and thereby substantially simplify their own global filing strategies.
While design rights provide a great way to prevent innovative visual features of a product from being copied, it is important to note that there can still be slight variations in the criteria under which designs are granted in the member states of the Hague System. In particular, the PRC Patent Office may adopt a stricter approach with respect to certain issues on clarity of the drawings. Applicants are therefore recommended to consult their professional advisers when preparing a design application.
Finally, please note that China’s accession to the Hague System does not extend to Hong Kong and Macau. Thus, design protection in these two jurisdictions still needs to be applied for individually.