A design is the form of a product – its features of shape, configuration, ornamentation or pattern which give the product a unique appearance. Design rights provide legal protection to the visual features of a design. Design protection is available for a period of 10 years, and for designs to be eligible for protection they must be new and distinctive. Registering a design provides its owner an exclusive right to commercially exploit the design free from copying.

Design right applications, registrations and certifications

In 2020, a total of 7,165 applications for design rights were filed in Australia, a 4 per cent decrease on 2019. In Australia, design right applications are not substantively examined on registration. As a result, time-series variation in application and registration levels is highly correlated (Figure D1). In Australia, 6 332 designs were registered in 2020, representing an 11 per cent annual decline.

Figure D1. Design right applications, registrations and certifications, 2011–19


To be enforced in Australia, design rights must be certified, meaning they are examined by IP Australia. Certification may be requested by the owner of the design or by a third party (e.g. a design owner’s competitor who wants to test the validity of the owner’s claim to design protection). In 2020, 998 design rights were certified, a relatively stable level against the previous year.

Resident and non-resident filings

The decline witnessed in design right applications in 2020 was proportional across resident and non-residents. Australian residents were named as applicants on 2 581 design right applications, down by 3 per cent. Ninety five per cent of resident applications listed only one Australian applicant, with a small number of multiparty applications – 113 from Australian co-applicants and 10 from Australians with international co-applicants.

Non-residents accounted for 4 560 applications in 2020, down by 5 per cent from their level in 2019. Most design right applications in Australia come from single non-resident applicants (4 488, or 63 per cent of all filings), with a smaller number (72) from non-resident co-applicants without involvement of Australian residents. The non-resident share of total applications has steadily increased over the past decade, from 60 per cent in 2011 to 64 per cent in 2020.

Table D1. Origin of single and multi-party design right applications, 2020

Applicant group Single party applications Multi-party applications Total count of applications per applicant group
Common origina Mixed originb
Residents 2 478 113 10 2 601
Non-residents 4 489 75 - 4 564
Total 6 967 188 10 7 165

a Common origin applications either involve two or more resident applicants or two or more non-resident applicants.

b Mixed origin applications involve at least one resident applicant and at least one non-resident applicant. Mixed origin applications are counted toward the total of resident applications and are not counted toward the total of non-resident applications.

Leading product classes

Registered designs are classified using the Locarno System, a classification framework comprised of 32 product categories.1 Table D2 presents information for the top 5 product classes which received the highest numbers of design applications in 2020. The leading class, Means of transport and hoisting, encompasses all land, sea, air and space vehicles and their component parts.

Table D2. Design classes, Top 5 in 2020

 Class 12 Means of transport or hoisting
 Class 14 Recording, telecommunication or data processing equipment
 Class 24 Medical and laboratory equipment
 Class 2 Articles of Clothing and Haberdashery
 Class 9 Packaging and containers
Applications 618 584 561 523 518
Annual change 2019–20 -11% 3% 21% -1% -13%

Figure D2 charts change in the share of total applications received by the 5 high-volume classes which registered the highest rates of change in 2019–20. With millions of people at home searching for new forms of entertainment, the COVID-19 pandemic saw increased sales of video games,2 and increased participation in both outdoor sports and home workouts. In this time, applications for designs of games, toys, tents and sports goods increased dramatically by 22 per cent from 2019. Applications also increased for designs of medical lab equipment (up 21 per cent), potentially reflecting the increased rate of innovations in products designed to test for, stem or avoid the effects of COVID-19.

Restricted social interaction – including in-store retail trade – may have contributed to a sizeable decrease in applications for articles of adornment (e.g. jewellery), which fell by 34 per cent, and for household goods, down by 19 per cent.

Figure D2. Applications for designs of medical and health care products increased in 2020, as did applications for designs of games, toys and tents, while applications for articles of adornment and household goods fell

Notes: Figure D2 depicts change over time in the share of design right applications nominating five key Locarno classes. The classes shown exhibited the greatest change (growth or decline) in application levels in 2019–20; excluded from consideration are low-volume classes, which on average have received less than 100 applications per year over the past decade.

Leading applicants

Table D3 lists the leading resident and non-resident applicants for design rights in Australia. The list of top applicants from Australia is dominated by producers of textile goods. Australian-based fashion house Zimmermann Wear retained its top position in 2020 with 90 applications. The menswear label Industrie Clothing ranked second with 87 filings, though primarily for packaging designs. These clothing producers were followed by a private resident, Yajun Hu (44 applications) for desk designs and King Furniture (32 applications). Fifth-ranked was Frankie4 Pty Ltd (28 applications), an Australian shoe brand that has sought both patent and design right protection for their podiatrist-designed footwear.

Table D3. Top 5 domestic and international applicants for design rights in Australia, 2020

Top 5 domestic Australian applicants Top 5 international applicants
Rank Applicant Applications Rank change Applicant Applications Rank change
1 Zimmermann Wear 90 - Philips 109 ↑2
2 Industrie IP 87 new Google 96 new
3 Yajun Hu 44 new Apple 79 ↓1
4 King Furniture Australia 32 new Xiaomi Mobile Software 78 new
5 Frankie4 IP 1 Pty Ltd 28 new Fisher & Paykel Healthcare 75 new

The list of top non-resident applicants includes well-known multinational corporations operating in consumer and health technologies. Lead applicants included Philips (109 applications), Google (96), Apple (79) and Beijing-based computer and smartphone manufacturer Xiaomi (78). The list is rounded out by Fisher & Paykel Healthcare (75 applications), a manufacturer, designer and marketer of products and systems for use in respiratory care.

Countries of origin

The leading foreign countries of origin for design right applications included the United States (US applicants were named on 1 853 applications), China (486), the United Kingdom (358), Japan (262) and Germany (220). These countries were among the top 5 origin countries for merchandise imports in Australia during the first half of 2020, with the exception of the UK.3 Thailand, the fourth-ranked source for merchandise imports is not a major country of origin for design right applications in Australia.

While applications from the US accounted for a quarter of all design right filings in Australia, applications from the US fell in 2020 by 11 per cent. In contrast, applications from China increased by 31 per cent and those from the UK increased by 59 per cent.

Design rights provide protection to industrially produced products. Production in industries is staged along a value chain – the series of steps by which a product is produced and brought to market, as different businesses add value to ideas and components produced by others. Prior research commissioned by IP Australia found that Australian design innovators are more global in their strategy than the average Australian business. In addition, businesses in design rights-intensive industries are likely to be more active in global value chains than businesses outside these industries.4

On average over the past decade, around one per cent of design right applications in Australia have been submitted by international partnerships, involving applicants from multiple countries; in 2020 that was only 0.5 per cent. The leading countries of origin for partnerships were China and the US (7 applications), Belgium and Japan (7), Austria and Germany (5) and Australia and the US (5).

Australian filings overseas

For data on Australian filings abroad we rely on statistics published by WIPO which are not yet available for 2020 and so we cannot see the effects of the pandemic in this data yet. Based on WIPO data, the design count in applications by Australians abroad was already in decline in 2019, having decreased by 14 per cent from their level in 2018. This followed a period of consistent growth since 2016. The majority of the decline occurred in design right applications filed by Australians at the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO). The count of designs filed by Australians at the EUIPO in 2019 fell by 43 per cent (to 377 designs) from their level in 2018. 

As a consequence, the United States outranks the EUIPO as the major destination for design right filings by Australians overseas (633 designs in 2019). While Australian design filing activity in the US increased by 6 per cent, the next ranked destination countries – New Zealand (323 designs), China (318 designs) and the United Kingdom (163 designs) – all saw weakened demand from Australians, despite design filing activity increasing worldwide.5

Endnotes

  1. For details, see https://www.wipo.int/classifications/locarno/en/.

  2. Smith, N. (13 May 2020), “The giants of the video game industry have thrived in the pandemic. Can the success continue?” The Washington Post.

  3. Australian Bureau of Statistics. International Trade, 5368, November 2020. Retrieved 25 January 2021.

  4. Kollmann, T., A. Koswatta., A. Palangkaraya. and E. Webster (2020), “The impact of design rights on Australian businesses.” Economic Research Paper 09, IP Australia.

  5. World Intellectual Property Organization (7 December 2020), “World Intellectual Property Indicators Report: Trademark and industrial design filing activity role in 2019; patent applications marked rare decline.” Press Release, WIPO. Retrieved 5 February 2020. <wipo.int/pressroom/en/articles/2020/article_0027.html.


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