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Kitchen handles were too ordinary
The Copenhagen Maritime and Commercial Court was not convinced that long stainless steel kitchen handles could be copyright or design protected. They were simply too ordinary.
In Denmark, handicraft is afforded relatively broad protection and broader than in most other countries in the European Union. But what can actually be categorised as handicraft - kitchen handles? Two kitchen manufacturers found themselves in a dispute about the right to market and sell different versions of a long stainless steel handle for kitchen cupboards. One of them, the plaintiff, had sold the handles since 2004. The other had produced a similar model at a later point. The plaintiff believed that, in producing a similar model, the other manufacturer had infringed his copyright in the handles, and therefore sued. Before the Court could decide whether the handle was so original as to be protected by the Danish Copyright Act, the handle was examined by an expert. Based on his opinion, the Court found that the handle was not copyrighted because it was neither original nor an expression of individual creativity. The fact that the handle resembled one that had been created and sold in Italy since 2003 was a factor that weighed heavily with the Court.
A handle is a handle
Based on the expert's opinion, the Court also set aside the plaintiff's design registration of the handle from 2004. And nor was the handle so unique as to be protected from copying under the Danish Marketing Practices Act. The Court did not criticize the plaintiff for having contacted the defendant's customers to tell them that the defendant was selling an infringing handle. This was not a breach of the settlement that the two parties had signed at an earlier point in time, even though the settlement specified that they were not allowed to make derogatory remarks about each other. Nor did the action of contacting the defendant's customers conflict with good marketing practices, although the handle was not protected.
Norrbom Vinding notes:
- that the case illustrates that, even in Denmark, there are limits as to which designs can be protected under copyright or design law;
- that the case also illustrates that modifications to existing designs inspired by practical needs will generally not make the design protected from copying under the Danish Marketing Practices Act; and
- that contacting a competitor's customers may be necessary to stop (alleged) infringement of intellectual property rights, but care must be taken not to cross the line and breach the Danish Marketing Practices Act.