In the field of the protection of industrial design, the European Union Member States have reached an accord on the elimination of the distinction between aesthetic and functional forms. To be patentable, a model or design must satisfy the requirement of novelty, i.e., of extrinsic originality with respect to prior art. This property right will not be granted, on the other hand, to models and designs merely reflecting forms which are technically necessary.

Some time is expected to pass, however, before the accord is enacted in an EC Directive, in as much as the Member States are finding it difficult to come to an agreement on the treatment of replacement parts (with particular regard to the car manufacturing sector).

In the meantime, the legal protection of industrial design in Italy has undergone an abrupt shift after the surprising reform which entered into force with Law no. 650/96, which unconditionally placed the subject under the provisions of the Copyright laws.

In fact, the Italian legislator, faced with the imminent enactment of the European Directive on the subject, has provided a kind of transitory regulatory scheme: it abrogated the still recent Law no.650/96 and established that works in industrial design be "temporarily" protected through a sui generis copyright, with a 15-year period of protection.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.