Nutella hit the headlines in February this year after using an algorithm to produce millions of unique labels in Italy. The jars flew off the shelves with customers keen to get their hands on a one-of-a kind jar. Each label design was completely unique with only the Nutella logo remaining the same.

The ad agency responsible for the campaign described each jar as “a piece of art” stamped with a unique code enabling it to be authenticated by collectors. The labels might not be works of art in a traditional sense but can still be protected by copyright, despite being computer generated. The Copyright Designs and Patents Act makes provision for work generated by computers, including with regard to ownership. However, computer generated work will only receive protection for 50 years from the end of the calendar year in which it was made, so the length of protection is significantly shortened.

In addition to copyright protection, brands typically keep packaging consistent to enable customers to easily recognise their products, which assists in providing passing off protection. For mass marketed goods, if brands opt for the more unique (and possibly in future more personalised) one-off design approach then they should consider what key elements should remain consistent in order to still enable customers to easily identify their product and maintain their passing off protection. Nutella achieved this by retaining the white lid, jar shape and logo.

But not everyone was pleased with Nutella’s approach. The campaign sparked debate that traditional designers will be replaced by computers. It seems more likely that algorithms will be tools to assist designers, rather than replace them. The generation of content by algorithms may have some challenges but certainly plenty of opportunities too.