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Monday, 19 March 2012

Bridgestone wins tread design patent case in China

Design rights in a tread pattern? Never heard of that before. Design patents in many countries of the world correspond to registered designs in the UK and European Union systems, and generally novelty is required before protection is given. But I bet there a plenty of registrations for tread designs lurking on registers around the world.

In this case, Bridgestone, the tyre manufacturer, succeeded in a claim against Guangming Tyre Group in the Beijing Second Intermediate People's Court. In May 2011 Bridgestone filed a claim alleging that its design patent rights were violated by Guangming's manufacturing and sales of tyres, under the Heshan and Chaoyinsu brand names, using patented truck and bus tire tread patterns.

The court ruled in Bridgestone's favour in December 2011 and ordered defendant to pay damages for the infringement. The defendant did not appeal this decision, and the decision has now been confirmed.

The novelty requirement strikes me as a high standard for something as functional as a tread pattern - but, as in other areas of intellectual property law, the lines between different rights are becoming more and more blurred. Surely a tyre tread is applied for utilitarian not aesthetic reasons? But design laws, such at those in the EU, have lost their focus on the all-important question of whether something appeals to the eye. I don't know whether Guangming challenged the validity of the design patent - my guess is that they were put off from trying, perhaps by the expense.

Bridgestone's press statement concludes, predictably:
In accordance with its policy of making customer safety and security its highest priority, Bridgestone will continue to take aggressive action in the courts and with regulators in response to the copying and infringement of its products and services. These actions are necessary to protect consumers and to maintain and enhance Bridgestone's brand value.
What about preserving their monopoly? Nothing wrong in admitting that - it's what design patents and registered designs are all about. 

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