As an expectant parent I have been frequenting numerous baby shops to inspect the dazzling array of baby products. I can tell you – this is a whole new world of bits and pieces – and the engineering behind some of the items such as strollers or breast pumps is impressive, especially when you consider you are caring for such a tiny tot. As a Patent Attorney I have worked on patents in the baby industry for a number of inventors (some so-called “mumuprenuers”). However, until now I have never really appreciated how primed this market is and how there are some products that are “must-haves” – enter the Bonds wondersuit.
The Bonds Wondersuit
The Bonds Wondersuit is a one-piece baby suit that has a two way zip passing from the collar across the tummy of the suit and down one of the legs. The sell is that mums and dads can zip from the legs up quickly when nappy changing, instead of zipping from the collar down undressing the whole baby, (apparently something that will become important to my wife and I very shortly).
My interest in the Wondersuit arose when my wife complained that there were few Wondersuits in stock and why didn’t anyone else make the Wondersuit. My Patent Attorney ears immediately pricked up and I grabbed the one Wondersuit we have managed to buy and looked at the tag – “Design Registered”.
Of course, no one had copied the Wondersuit because Bonds had the foresight to protect the design by a Registered Design. Thinking this would be a good real life case study – I jumped on the IP Australia Designs Database and found the Design to be currently registered and certified (which means Bonds intend to enforce this Design or have had to enforce the Design). The Design registered on file is reproduced below and you can see that the design drawings closely resemble the main features of the Wondersuit product. The Design No. is AU337791.
What is a Registered Design?
A registered design is an intellectual property right awarded to a product that has a visual appearance that is new and distinctive (i.e. the product is new and has not yet been in the market). Unlike patents which protect function, a registered design protects appearance – which is why it was used for the Bonds Wondersuit. The protection allows you to stop a competitor (once the Design is certified) from making a product that looks the same or substantially similar to your design. I specialise in the area and can certainly advise and file rights to make sure your design is properly protected.
The Plot Thickens
Whilst inspecting a few more baby suits I came across a similar suit by Pure Baby that has a zip arranged in almost a mirror equivalent of the Bonds Wondersuit (see the Picture above), although the feet are also a little different. How could this be? I can only speculate – did Pure Baby copy the Bonds design by placing the zipper on the other side? Has Bonds enforced its Design rights on Pure Baby and Pure Baby pays a licence fee to Bonds? Was the zipper not new and the Bonds Design is for the feet and right hand zip only?
Depending on the specific circumstances (such as the prior art design base) the Pure Baby suit could be found to infringe the Bonds Design because overall it has the same main visual features – just in reverse (and it has be found before that say, a Design right for a right-shoe will protect a left-shoe, and vis-versa). In any case, it is an interesting point to note that in this case, purely for deterrent value, it may have been worthwhile for Bonds to file this Design on both right and left hand versions.
Sometimes IP Strategy is not just about being legally “correct” but also about the perception of broader rights to keep competitors at bay, so in this case (of course in retrospect) – I would have advised Bonds, if I had been their Patent Attorney, to file two designs for the Wondersuit as this is a cheaper strategy than enforcing their rights once a competitor emerges.
The Take Home Message
The take home message is that products like the Wondersuit can be effectively protected by Registered Design rights (hence why no one has exactly copied the Bonds design). The trade mark is also really important i.e. “Wondersuit”. However, with Registered Designs you do need to be careful to also protect obvious workaround attempts and that is where my skills as a Patent Attorney come into play. Finally, I do hope the “Wondersuit” is great and makes our lives just that little bit better when our little one greets us soon.