Furniture manufacturers have a varied arsenal when it comes to protecting their intellectual property. A single item of furniture can be protected by a utility patent (assuming there is functionality), design patent, copyright, and trade dress. If the item or its collection has a name, trademark rights may be available too. Even though there are many tools, the copyright and trade dress combination is a dependable pairing that provides a formidable offense.
Amini Innovation Corporation ("AICO") recently deployed this one-two punch against McFerran Home Furnishings. See Civil Action No. 2:13-cv-6496 (C.D. Cal. Sept. 5, 2013). In its complaint, AICO alleges copyright and trade dress infringement for two items of furniture, including the heavily advertised Villa Valencia Bed (AICO's shown above McFerran's allegedly infringing bed):
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]The copyright-plus-trade dress strategy allows a furniture manufacturer to assert a statutory claim (copyright) and essentially a common law claim (trade dress). Manufacturers can apply for and obtain a copyright certificate at any time, unlike with patents, which can time-barred by public disclosures and sales. One can sell a product for a while and then get a copyright registration, including after the discovery of an infringer. Be careful, however, because statutory damages are only available to those that obtain a registration before the infringement starts. The trade dress claim allows the manufacturer put on evidence of its wide-spread advertising and marketing, all of which can greatly influence a judge or jury.
Used together, the copyright-plus-trade dress combination is an effective set of litigation tools for the furniture manufacturer with innovative designs.