Guitars and IPRs


Gibson have been back in court defending their IP recently and to add a little context we spoke to MI Specialist Patent Attorney Iain Russell for his take on what members can learn from the outcome.

A recent case revolving around trade mark rights in guitar body shapes serves as a reminder of the importance of intellectual property rights (IPRs) to musical instrument manufacturers.

The case itself was between Gibson and Armadillo (known as Dean Guitars), and centred on whether Gibson had valid trade mark rights in some of their guitar body shapes and whether Dean infringed those trade mark rights by selling guitars with allegedly similar body shapes. The case has been widely reported, and you can find the further details here and here.

Rather than repeating what’s already covered in those reports (especially as, in this case, both sides claimed a degree of victory!), this article offers three practical IPR-related suggestions for musical instrument manufacturers:

  1. Use the versatility of registered IPRs to your competitive advantage. Trade marks are usually used to protect things like business names, product names, and logos. But, as the Gibson and Dean case demonstrates, trade marks can more generally be used to protect many different things that serve as an indicator of trade origin. As well as trade marks, patents and registered designs can also help protect musical instruments. Patents can be used to protect musical instrument technology, including mechanical and electronics aspects and, despite what you might read in some online resources, certain types of software too. Registered designs can be used to protect the appearance of all or just part of a musical instrument; there are lots of registered designs for guitar body shapes too.
  2. Remember that other musical instrument manufacturers may have their own IPRs. In the same way that you can use IPRs to protect your own musical instruments, others can too. If you’re designing, launching, or selling a new product, you can have checks carried out to help assess the risk of third party IPR infringement. The costs of these checks can vary widely, for example based on the territories you want the checks to cover, whether the checks are limited to certain competitors, which type(s) of IPR the checks relate to, etc.
  3. If you’re in any doubt, speak to an IP attorney. IP is a complicated and ever-changing area of law and most IP attorneys will happily have an initial free, no-obligation, and confidential chat with you to discuss either point above, or anything else related to IP. A good IP attorney will try to understand how IP fits within your business and your commercial aims around IP.

If you’re a patent-savvy music tech business looking for patent help, get in touch with Russell IP here. Iain provides free 1-hour consultations to all MIA members.


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