It was my privilege to represent the ABA, Section of Intellectual Property Law, at the WIPO Design Conference held in Venice, Italy, May 13-14, 2004. This conference launched a new era in international design protection. The conference was organized to provide world attention for the recently operational (April 1, 2004) Geneva Act of the Hague Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Industrial Designs and the importance of design protection for each country. Section had participated in the develop of the Geneva Act, for centralizing filing and procedures for design patents, similar to what PCT and the Madrid Protocol do for utility patents and trademarks, respectively.

The two day design conference was divided into presentations by national government officials responsible for administering design protection systems, IP practitioners and industrial designers. I will mentioned first the designers, as they helped us see that products have beauty and value created from how they look. It is an important economic fact that needs to be understood. Each of them stressed the important of education on improving product design appearance, to help companies provide the most competitive products, and for attorneys to provide effective design protection. The government officials reported on the status of design protection which generally showed registration increases. Ms. Lois Boland, Head of the U. S. Patent and Trademark Office of Legislation and International Affairs, focused primarily on the success of the design patent system. She pointed out that the Geneva Act preparation was supported by the U. S, and the treaty was arranged to allow the U. S. and other novelty examination countries to become members.

Ms. Boland praised the work of the PTO Design Group for examining design patents within time limits set by the Geneva Act, so that U. S. membership would be workable. The PTO now had a 7.8 months average first office action in a design patent application in Fiscal Year 2003, and a 13.9 months average for the issuance of a design patent in that year. The PTO goal is an average design patent issuance of 12 months. She indicated that the PTO should have the legislative package ready for Congress on ratification of the Geneva Act by this fall or at the latest the beginning of the next Congressional term.

A very good indication of the likely success of the Geneva Act was the comment of Mr. Wubbo De Boer, President, Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market, the EU trademark and designs registration office. His personal view was that the EU soon would link up the Geneva Act and the new EU Community Design Registration. This connection would help make the Geneva Act essentially the world, one stop place for design registration and developing common procedures. A number of government speakers indicated that ratification was likely by their legislatures. Many practitioner who spoke at this event favorably commented on the Geneva Act and supported ratification.

This conference confirmed that the next major step for improved international design protection in the U. S. is to have the U. S. ratify the Geneva Act. The Section and other U. S. IP professional organizations, law firms and companies have the opportunity to take a leadership role in this effort and their support is essential.

For further information on this Design Conference, WIPO will be posting some of the conference papers on their web site. It was stressed by the WIPO that their web site has the latest information on the Geneva Act. I will be glad to answer any questions than anyone may have concerning the Design Conference I attended.

William T. Fryer, III
University of Baltimore School of Law



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