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Forget designs; it's brands, my dear, that really matter

An article in last Friday''s Telegraph newspaper reports that a coalition of leading UK designers, including Sir Terence Conran, are campaigning for better legal protection for product designs.

The campaign is apparently a consequence of a legal case that was heard earlier this year by the Court of Appeal, when it held that rival suitcase designs to the well-known TRUNKI ride-on children''s suitcases did not infringe Community registered designs belonging to the company behind the TRUNKI brand.

The paper reports that the designers in question are calling for more robust legal protection for designs, and they warn that the decision of the Court of Appeal in the TRUNKI case puts British businesses at a real disadvantage.

Having read the decision of the Court of Appeal, I can understand why the designers don''t like the result and want the law changed. That said, it can certainly be argued that the decision is based on sound legal logic.

For many years I have felt that registered designs often prove to be very narrow legal rights when it comes to trying to enforce them against rival looking products. Whilst they can be useful in preventing counterfeit goods and identical/almost identical looking competitors'' products from being produced and sold, they are not the solution when it comes to the problem of preventing third parties from developing goods that are ''inspired'' by an earlier product design. As is always the case, successful innovation inspires imitation.

Therefore, what designers need to concentrate on is not just creating great product designs, but also developing, investing in and protecting their ''brands''. ''TRUNKI'' is becoming a well-known brand. TRUNKI ride-on suitcases were the first to market and, being successful, it is not surprising that others want a piece of the action. But kids aren''t stupid. They want the real thing, not something that might (arguably) ''look like'' or be ''inspired by'' the well-known branded product. As Kellogg''s used to say "Kellogg''s corn flakes - the original and best". Every supermarket sells their own corn flakes these days, but many of us are still willing to pay a premium to buy "Kellogg''s" corn flakes, because we want the ''branded'' version.

By registering your brands as trade marks they can last forever (unlike registered designs) and you can prevent others from using the same, or a confusingly similar, brand to yours. Innovative product design is only part of the reason why people buy certain goods and not others; the ''brand'' has a lot to do with it. Otherwise, why do people buy a white Ralph Lauren ''Polo'' branded short-sleeved shirt when they could buy an ''unbranded'' version for a third, or even a quarter, of the price in their local supermarket? It''s brands, my dear, that really matter.