“Max Bill Bar Stool”

Decision of the Federal Supreme Court, 1st Civil Chamber (Bundesgericht, I. zivilrechtliche Abteilung) 12 July 2017 – Case No 4A_115/2017
  • Design Act, Art. 2(1)
Decision • Copyright Law Switzerland
  1. 1.

    Works of applied art enjoy the protection of copyright if they are to be regarded as intellectual creations with an individual character. Originality in the sense of the author’s personal stamp is no longer necessary according to the current amended Act.

  2. 2.

    The individuality requirements depend on the scope available for the individual design. Protection is conferred on what as an individual or original creation is distinguishable from the factual or natural preconditions within the framework of the purpose for which it is intended. However, if the functional purpose dictates the design through previously known shapes in such a way that there is practically no scope for individual or original features, the result is a purely technical product that is to be excluded from the protection of copyright. Works of applied art are thus subject to relatively high individuality requirements.

  3. 3.

    The decisive factor for copyright protection is the artistic impression of the design, which is not necessarily or even exclusively a consequence of an individual component, but is determined by the composition, the lines and the interaction of all the elements. Admittedly, the composition of one element can dominate and be so salient that it has a determining effect. However, the comparison of individual elements is not decisive. In any event, it is not decisive that individual elements were previously known.

  4. 4.

    The decisive factor for the individuality of a work is that an individual artistic composition is identifiable going beyond a mere craftsmanship or industrial work and that it clearly contrasts with the previously known shapes. This can also be the case if no new style is created or significantly influenced.

  5. 5.

    The scope of application of the Copyright Act on the one hand and the Design Act on the other hand are distinguished by the fact that copyright law protects the “individual” and design law the “original” achievement. Since works of applied art are determined by their utilitarian purpose, the decisive factor is whether the artistic design differs significantly from the previously known shapes within the limits of this purpose to such an extent that it appears unique.

  6. 6.

    Rejection of individuality on the grounds that the technical and functional purpose of a bar stool could not be achieved better than with the minimum design of the necessary elements cannot be sustained. The artistic impression achieved by the minimalist design is not determined by functional considerations.



Individual character Minimalist furniture design Works of applied art Interface between copyright and design law Functional elements Technical achievement 

Copyright information

© Max Planck Institute for Innovation and Competition, Munich 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Design Act, Art. 2(1)

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