The Hague System, short for The Hague Agreement Concerning the International Deposit of Industrial Designs, is a series of international treaties that permit an applicant to file a single application to obtain industrial design protection in all member states. The international registration that is obtained essentially provides the same protection in each of the member states as if the design had been registered directly with each individual office.

Currently there are 57 signatories to the Hague System. A key member is the European Union. Several African and Middle East countries are also members. Unfortunately, many of the larger markets, such as the United States, China and Japan, are not yet signatories.

In recent negotiations between Canada and the European Union to establish a Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), the Hague System has emerged as a point of discussion. Documents related to the CETA negotiations suggest that the European Union is pressuring Canada to sign on to the Hague System (among other IP-related demands).

The Hague System would provide certain advantages for Canadian applicants seeking design rights abroad. Notably, the Hague System is cost effective since all member states are covered by a single application, and each application may consist of several designs. Further, recordal of changes and renewals are controlled centrally though a single procedural step, rather than on an office-by-office basis, which simplifies the management of design portfolios and reduces costs.

There are no immediate plans for Canada to sign on, although the draft CETA document states that Canada “endeavours” to accede.

To be entitled to file an international application under the Hague System, an applicant must have a connection to a member state through nationality, domicile, a real and effective industrial or commercial establishment, or habitual residence. Thus, although Canada is not yet a signatory, Canadian applicants interested in taking advantage of the Hague System may already be able to do so if such a connection to a member state exists. Industrial design protection may be obtained in Europe by filing a single Community design application. If the Hague System can be used, then it may provide a good alternative to a Community design application to simultaneously seek protection in not just Europe, but also many other countries.