Wednesday 14 April 2021
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Looks Matter

In relations with people, we advocate that looks do not matter in the hopes of creating a discriminatory free environment.  However, in the world of products and product development, looks matter. In this world, a level of discrimination is necessary to create competition. With an overwhelming range of choice in everything from shoes to cars to soap to jewelry, it is easy to see why design creates a conducive environment of difference, hierarchy and preference in the world of products.
For each of the abovementioned items, there are hundreds of thousands of manufacturers worldwide. For instance in shoe products, there are hundreds of manufacturers, to the extent that shoes have various categories, an example would be sports shoes and within sports shoes, there are different types of sports and additionally different brands that produce different types. A practical example would be Nike; they produce sports shoes but within the sports shoe category, they manufacture men and women sports shoes of various kinds-men’s and women’s running shoes, men’s and women’s tennis shoes, men’s and women’s soccer boats, and the list goes on.
In this instance, adjacent brands exist-Adidas, Puma and many more all manufacture a similar range of products. The appeal of a product to our senses particularly to our sight is precisely part of what gives some companies a competitive edge over others.  Coupled with trademarks (the type of IP concerned with names), designs enable a unique and well-established brand. IP professionals like to say; there is nothing new under the sun. To us, this means that an edge of creativity and knowledge application is what differentiates most things. To us, this means that nothing is really novel, it is the expression of thereof that qualifies anything as unique. This is why we grant protection over designs in the form of industrial design protection. The origins of industrial design are in the textile industry in the 1700’s, authorities at that time noted the tension between various textile manufacturers in producing the same types of linens and materials but distinguished themselves as different by the patterns, embroideries and designs they produced. This brought the need to be able to differentiate similar products by means of their design.
Industrial design is a type of IP that protects the aesthetic aspect of something. It is concerned with merely the appearance of an article or item; it’s ornamental and configuration characteristics which can be two dimensional for example a pattern or three dimensional for example a shape.
Industrial design is the protection granted for the look of a product. In this case, the design protected is the appearance of a product that is not tied to its function, it is important to note that industrial design is purely concerned with the element of aesthetic appeal that is not functional. Should a certain design implicate the function or technicality of the item, it is not granted protection in this regard.  Patents protect a functional or technical aspect of a product even with respects to design. Similar to other IP, industrial design has requirements that must be satisfied before protection is granted. In order for a design to qualify as eligible for protection, it should be novel or original. In this case, the IP system grants flexibility in that it accepts novel or original to be territorial i.e. a design can be new to Namibia whereas it might not be new to Nigeria for example. Yet again, expressing that there is nothing new under the sun. Industrial design protection is granted for a period of 5 years subject to 2-4 terms of renewability depending on the jurisdiction. However, internationally industrial designs are not granted for more than 10-25 years.
Designers are responsible for creating a visual attraction of a product for the consumer. Designers enable a consumer to connect with the product and help create a feeling of loyalty to the consumer. Designs as a branding tool have catapulted businesses to high levels of success. Using the shoe example, there are people who will not buy any other brand but Nike; similarly, there are many who swear by the designs that Adidas produces.  As consumers, we do not always take note of our subconscious decisions when buying, but if we were to take the time; we notice that we gravitate to certain products because of how the designs make us feel. This keeps us going back for more; this keeps us loyal to the brand.  Businesses need to be aware that where consumers do primarily need certain items and will make purchasing choices based on affordability, their need at times is driven by their sensory desires.  How your product looks matters and this is something that the West has grasped in their business ethos.
The East and Africa yet again have a wealth of examples to follow and learn from.  In the product world, looks matter so design your way to success.

*Seno Namwandi is a Research Assistant at the International University of Management (IUM), she is interested in the convergence between Science, Business and Law i.e. Intellectual Property (IP).

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