In Estonia, the protection of industrial designs can be applied for on the grounds of the Industrial Designs Protection Act that entered into force on 11 January 1998. From 1 May 2004, legal acts concerning Community designs, including the Council Regulation 6/2002/EC of 12 December 2001 on legal protection of the Community Designs, are also valid in Estonia.
Pursuant to the Regulation, all industrial designs disclosed to public in the territory of the European Union automatically have a 3-year protection against copying as well as other existing possibilities for registration.
Estonia acceded to the Geneva Act of the Hague Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Industrial Designs on 23 December 2003. Common Regulations of the Geneva Act of the Hague Agreement Concerning the Deposit of Industrial Design entered into force on 1 April 2004. To protect an industrial design via the Hague system, an application in English or French should be filed with the International Bureau of WIPO in Geneva, designating the countries where protection is wanted.
In Estonia, industrial designs are registered by formal registration system. The Estonian Patent Office does not examine the industrial design as to its novelty, individual character, industrial applicability or the right of a person to file the application.
In 2022, the Estonian Patent Office received 38 industrial design registration applications, which is slightly less than in 2021 but still of the same magnitude (40 applications). 27 people looking to register an industrial design were from Estonia and 11 were from other countries. This is a significant increase; in 2021, people from other countries filed four applications. Almost all applicants (37) used the possibility to submit an electronic application. The most applications were filed in the groups “transport or lifting equipment” (7 applications), furnishings” (6 applications), “lighting” (5 applications) and “clothing” (4 applications).
Estonian applicants submitted 162 applications to the European Union Intellectual Property Office, which is 20 less than in 2021 (186). Applications filed like that will acquire protection in the whole territory of the European Union, including Estonia.
The number of applications for international registration of industrial designs filed under the Hague Agreement has also decreased. In 2022, 25 applications were filed this way, which is ten fewer than in 2021 (35) and far behind the 2017 record (88 applications). The highest number of applications were filed from France (8 applications) and Switzerland (5 applications). Estonian applicants did not submit any applications under the Hague Agreement in 2022. The most applications were filed in the groups “packages or containers for the transport or handling of goods” (5 applications).
By the end of 2022, there were only 3 national applications and 12 international applications pending. On 31 December 2022 there were in total 356 industrial designs in the Estonian register of industrial designs and 450 international industrial design registrations with legal protection in Estonia. These are figures that appear to show a paradoxical decline – the number of registrations should increase over time, but instead it decreases. This can be explained by the fact that the duration of design protection is not indefinite (as it is in the case of trade mark extension) and, secondly, there is no need to extend the protection after the first or second protection period (one period of 5 years).
For those who are interested can use the database of industrial designs on the website of the Estonian Patent Office, which contains data on registered and pending industrial designs, as well as international registrations designating Estonia. The database is updated every day, so the data is always up to date.
In accordance with the previously mentioned statistic, the decrease in the number of applications in 2022 has been relatively significant, both in terms of applications filed to the EUIPO by Estonian citizens and international registrations that have come in. Only the number of applications submitted for registration in Estonia remained relatively stable. The reason could be the existing economic situation. However, one cannot ignore the fact that potential applicants’ lack of knowledge in this area most likely contributes to the lack of protection for industrial designs. However, we are pleased to note that there is more interest in the protection of industrial designs than the statistics indicate – there are more people requesting advice by phone and e-mail, though we would prefer to see even more of them.
The European Commission has prepared new proposals for a design directive and regulation for 2022, under which industrial design protection would become more modern, simpler, and less expensive both nationally and at the EU level. The most important changes concern the term of industrial design, the EU industrial design fee and expand the possibilities of filing an industrial design for registration, e.g. the possibility of filing a consolidated application in Estonia would be added. Also, in accordance with the changes suggested, it will soon be possible to fix a multi-part product using a copy of the original design, fostering competition in the spare parts market. The proposed changes would ensure that business owners in Europe have equal opportunities.
As a result, the coming years promise to bring many changes, and we hope that designers will be able to protect intellectual property more effectively than in the past.