Intellectual Property Rights in Yachting

Navigating the Waters of Innovation Protection

Dr. Susanna Grech Deguara | 11 Dec 2023

Yachting and IP Img

The world of yachting, a realm of luxury and innovation, stands as a testament to creativity and engineering. Amidst the azure expanse of the seas, a less obvious but equally important facet shapes this industry: intellectual property rights (IP Rights). The combination of technology, design, and craftsmanship necessitates a robust framework for protecting intangible assets. This publication delves into the intersection of intellectual property rights and yachting, highlighting their significance and challenges. 

Intellectual Property Rights in a Nutshell

Intellectual Property Rights embodies the legal protections granted to the creators of intangible property, which includes inventions, literary and artistic works, symbols, names, and designs used in commerce. These rights serve as incentives for individuals and entities to invest time, resources, and creativity into making new and valuable innovations. The main categories of IP Rights include patents, copyrights, trademarks, and trade secrets.

Key Issues

  • IP Protection in Yacht Design
  • IP Fueling Maritime Innovation

Innovations in Yachting: A Blend of Artistry and Engineering

The yachting industry is characterized by a harmonious fusion of artistry and engineering. The design and construction of a boat entail meticulous attention to detail, often pushing the boundaries of technology and aesthetics. From hull designs that minimize drag to advanced navigation systems and abundant interior finishes, the industry thrives on innovation. However, these innovations are vulnerable to imitation and unauthorized use, making IP Rights indispensable.

Patents and Technological Breakthroughs

Patents, considered a cornerstone of intellectual property protection, play a fundamental role in safeguarding technological breakthroughs. They grant the right to prevent others from making, using, importing or selling the invention without prior approval. In other words, patent protects an invention, and grants to the owner the exclusive rights to use his/her invention for a limited period. Innovations such as advanced propulsion systems, eco-friendly energy sources, and navigational technologies can be protected through patents. This not only rewards innovation but also incentivizes further research and development in the yachting sector. In 1421, one of the first ever “patent” was issued by the city of Florence to the famous architect of the Florentine Duomo, Filippo Brunelleschi, for an inventive ship for transportation of Marble. The first contemporary life jacket was patented on July 15, 1927 with the inventor Peter Markus revolutionizing the field of personal flotation devices. He filed a patent application for an “Inflatable life preserver” for “which the wearer, even if under water, can inflate within a few seconds by simply puncturing a cartridge of compressed air”.

Preserving Aesthetic Creations through Copyrights

While yachts must excel in technical innovation, their visual appeal is equally significant. Copyrights protect original artistic and creative expressions, including yacht designs and models. The graceful lines of a yacht's exterior, the intricate detailing of its interiors, and the artistry of its onboard amenities all qualify for copyright protection. By safeguarding these motifs, copyrights encourage designers to push the boundaries of aesthetics, enhancing the industry's visual diversity and appeal. The Court of Genoa confirmed the applicability of copyright to the yachting industry and stated that “there is no reason to recognize copyright protection for an architect who designs a villa and not for his colleague who designs a yacht”. 

Trademarks and Branding in Yachting

Trademarks, another subset of IP Rights, hold immense value in the yachting world. A yacht's name, logo, or distinctive features can be registered as trademarks, serving as identifiers of origin and quality. Not only do trademarks facilitate brand recognition, but they also deter counterfeiting and unauthorized use of the yacht's identity. This protection ensures that the reputation of yacht manufacturers and designers remains intact, bolstering consumer trust and market competitiveness. From Azimut to Sunseeker, all the major yacht builders and brokers ensure their brand is protected in the best possible. Moreover, owners of well-known brands sometimes opt to name their yachts after their own trademarks. 

Yacht Designs 

A design refers to the overall appearance of a product, including shape, configuration, and pattern. Unlike copyright, however, a design must first be registered if it is to be protected. As one of the main appeals of owning a custom-built vessel is its unique ‘one-off’ status, it’s not a shocking revelation that boat owners actively seek to prevent lookalikes from berthing next to theirs in the marina. These owners will often argue that as a result of the (usually hefty) designer’s fee, they have taken exclusive possession of the design rights. However, unless this has been expressly agreed upon in contract, it is unlikely that any design ownership has actually passed between the parties. Many a time, such cases end up in court, leaving the court to decide who owns a design. 

What does this mean for you? 

In the realm of yachting, where engineering prowess and artistic creativity converge, intellectual property rights assume an indispensable role. From safeguarding technological advancements to preserving aesthetic creations and establishing brand identities, IPRs shape the trajectory of innovation within the industry. As the yachting sector continues to evolve, the harmonious integration of intellectual property protection will be essential in steering its course towards continued growth and excellence on the high seas of innovation.

As yachts traverse international waters and cross jurisdictions, they evade the grasp of a single nation's legal system. Piracy, both in terms of physical yacht theft and intellectual property infringement, remains a concern. Developing a unified approach to IP Rights enforcement across different nations' maritime zones proves complex.

How we can help

Our design protection specialists and IP lawyers have extensive experience advising companies and intellectual property advisors on Malta and EU related IP matters.  Contact us for more information about design protection in Malta and the EU.

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