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Saturday, 13 October 2012

Apple takes licence for clock design


Reports throughout the media tell us that Apple has agreed to licence a clock design from Schweizerische Bundesbahnen (SBB), the Swiss railway operator, because the clock provided in Apple's iOS 6 was too similar. SBB's iconic design, the red second hand of which is in the shape of a railway guard's signalling disc, dates from 1944, and was designed by their employee Hans Hilfiker. It remains in use in stations throughout the railway service, and the design is licensed to Mondaine, a Swiss watch maker.

But this all begs the question, what intellectual property rights are there in a 58-year-old clock design? None in the UK, for starters. Copyright, which I guess would have applied back in 1944, will have been curtailed under Schedule 1 to the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, and if there were ever a registered design that protection will long since have expired. Surely Swiss law isn't very different (although the licence must be worldwide, and looking at national laws doesn't get us very far). So what's the problem? Evergreening, that's what ...

The terms of the licence remain confidential, but it looks as if (contrary, perhaps, to the reports) this isn't a licence of a design at all, but another type of intellectual property.

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