March 6, 2005

Prepared by William T. Fryer, III

Summary:  The U. S. Copyright Office and the U. S. Patent and Trademark Office published the report on the five year operation of theVessel Hull Design Protection Act.   The report is reviewed and suggestions given here on how to make the Act more effective.


1. The U. S. Copyright Office and the U. S. Patent and Trademark Office published, on November 3 2003, a joint report that reviewed the performance of the Vessel Hull Design Protection Act. (Act). Its conclusion was that Act needed more time to evaluate its impact on the Boating Industry. It has been in operation for five years. This report, in effect, recommended that the Act continue, under the administration of the Copyright Office.

2. A more detailed study of the report is needed. As a participant in the hearing held on the Act, talking to the persons who testified, it was apparent to me that the boating industry needed more information on the Act and how to prepared the application for registration, particularly the drawings. My testimony submitted in written form and orally gave some of the background and identified issues that need to be addressed. The Copyright Office will review what it can do to meet the needs expressed during this review.

3. The Review Report can be found on the Copyright Office web site at the URL: http://www.copyright.gov/reports/index.html. There are two PDF documents, a general report and an Appendix.

4. Current information on the Act and preparation of the application for registration can be found on the recently redesigned Copyright Office web site, at URL: http://www.copyright.gov/vessels. The Copyright Office web site has image copies of the registration documents. The total number of registrations issued since January 1, 2003, when this web site reported on the Act, was 95, as of March 6, 2005. A review of the parties obtaining registrations show that several major companies use the Act regularly. The low number of registrations was a subject discussed at the hearing and in the written testimony. One reason considered was the lack of widely public knowledge about the Act and how to use it. Improved communications could be achieved throught the cooperation of interested boat manufacturing organizations, with the cooperation of the lawyers' organizations.

5. Another reason that was clearly identified at the hearing for some confusion about how to complete the registration application. It is apparent from reviewing the registrations that there is a wide range of approaches to preparing the drawings. The range goes from detailed engineering drawings to pictures of the vessels outer features. This concern was mentioned at the hearing was that the drawings could reveal too much proprietary information, and the fact they are made public by the registration process, over the Internet, discourages use of the registration process.

6. A careful review of the Act and its procedures will guide a designer on how to prepare the application for registration. It is my strong suggestion that at the beginning the application be prepared by an intellectual property law attorney skilled protection designs.

7. There has been no final action by the Copyright Office on the proposed regulations concerning cancellation published in 1999. Informally, it is understood that the procedure is about to be completed for publication.

8. A brief review of legal research sources did not reveal any cases involving the Act. In formally, it has been reported that at least one legal action was filed under the Act. The lack of litigation was another topic discussed at the hearing. My view was that the Act may be working pretty well, with less copying and more respect for the rights of others, without litigation in the fast moving and independent industry. Splash copying of the complete design of fibreglass hulls and other features protected by the Act may now be understood by many builders as an unwise step. The absence of litigation may indicate that a more level playing field is not present thanks to the Act.

9. This web site has several documents that are useful in reviewing the history of the Act. The Web site Newsletter No. 6 has comments on hearing testimony, accessed by this link at the ULR:  www.fryer.com/VHtes303.htm.   Newsletter No. 4 has a status report on the Act.  Newsletter no. 3 a link to my report on the Act legislative history.  In Newletter No. 2 there is a link at www.fryer.com/wsbhtes1.html] to my testimony before the House Subcommittee when the legislation was pending,

10. There remains the need to discuss with some urgency what other product industries subject to the instant copying experienced by the boating industry, would benefit from the same general type of protection available to vessel hulls designs. This is a subject that can be raised most effectively with Congress by the industries effected. It would be a simple matter to add other industry protection. The balance that is provided in the Act is well crafted to protect the rights of innocent persons, and to get at the primary copiers.


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