Posted by Jason Albert
Associate General Counsel for IP Policy & Strategy, Microsoft
Today marks World Intellectual Property Day, an annual celebration of the role intellectual property plays in shaping the world around us. The theme for this year’s celebration is Designing the Future, with a focus on “the role of design in the marketplace, in society and in shaping the innovations of the future.”
Given that design protection has traditionally focused on physical products – the shape of Hershey’s Kisses or the VW bug – it might not be intuitively obvious why a software company should be excited about this form of IP. But designs play an increasingly important role in the technology sector. Whether it is the elegant physical design of a smartphone or the innovative user interface of a software application, good design drives market enthusiasm for technology products. And as more and more of our daily activities migrate online and to the cloud, designs will migrate from the shapes of things made in factories to the shapes of things rendered on computer screens.
Many countries around the world recognize this fact, and make design protection available for both virtual and physical products. Unfortunately, others still restrict design protection to purely physical items. This makes less and less sense as specialized physical designs are increasingly replaced by more advanced virtual user interfaces. With “soft” buttons on a touchscreen replacing mechanical buttons and physical keyboards, and customers becoming more likely to visit an Internet storefront than a brick-and-mortar one, it will become increasingly important that design protection extend to the online world. Strong design protection in the online environment will help drive continued innovation and differentiation in the cloud.