Bucerius Law School, Hamburg, Germany
October 11, 2013

Professor Dr. Dana Beldiman (Bucerius Law School)
Where Technology and Design Meet Reputation: A Place for IP Law?

With the growing importance of visual imagery in our society, firms are placing increased reliance on appearance-based product differentiation, as a way of turning technological inventions into new commercial products. This strategy is rendered vulnerable by the ease with which visual appearance can be imitated, fuelled by low cost manufacturing and consumer demand. Even though imitation products are often non-deceptive, original producers fear that a flood of such products will adversely affect their and their customers' reputations.

Reliance on visual and other sensory differentiation as a business model places increasing pressure on IP laws, particularly given the fact that the laws primarily relied on, design and trademark law, are not well suited to address the needs described above. Against this background, the presentation examines the various design and trademark doctrines implicated and the extent to which they meet the producers' needs. This analysis prompts a series of questions, including whether welfare is served by reshaping the IP doctrines at issue into more effective tools against imitation products; how the social and cultural factors of consumption impact the need for IP laws; how the dynamics of "introduction, mass emulation and decline" inherent in appearance-based products affect innovation; and whether, in light of the factors mentioned above, the intersection of appearance with reputation presents the same rationales for IP laws as other IP intensive fields.