When it comes to design, Switzerland has nothing to worry about. From vegetable peelers to furniture, the Swiss railway clock, the clothes horse and other classics – these products are winners due to their form and functionality. Some of these iconic designs can be found today in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
This rear spoiler also has a special design – and can therefore be protected. Photo: iStock
Innovative products with high-quality designs continue to be made nowadays by many Swiss companies. Some designs are purely for aesthetic purposes and others discreetly assist us in our everyday lives thanks to their form and functionality?–?we may not even notice their design. Tyre treads, shoes and exercise equipment are all examples of this. However, well thought-out, deliberate product design also plays an important role in the medical technology and industrial sectors. It facilitates handling and improves safety. Design is also a distinguishing feature of a brand.
In principle, design should serve us by contributing to a better quality of life, says design expert Wolfgang K. Meyer-Hayoz. For almost 35 years, his company in Winterthur has been advising enterprises on design and guiding them from concept development through to the final product. Several designs that they created in collaboration with clients have been internationally recognised.
«Design should not be an end in itself»
During our interview with Mr Meyer-Hayoz, he shows us photos of some new parking ticket machines. «Where am I supposed to put the money in? Even the design of simple products like this can be more intuitive,» says the expert. He believes that a design always has a defined function and purpose and is a form of communication.
Mr Meyer-Hayoz always looks at design from a holistic point of view, that is to say that it must be fully integrated into company processes. This begins with linking the design strategy with the business strategy. «A quick example – if we develop a product for bioprocess optimisation, the marketing communication should be consistent. An old-fashioned brochure would not fit the bill,» says Meyer-Hayoz. Everything must be homogeneous. This is only possible with a comprehensive design strategy. Product design is particularly important nowadays because it takes more than just technical functions to stand out from the crowd.
Design must be efficient
It’s not just about the initial eye-catching effect of an attractive design, however. Design can also make a company more efficient. Uniquely-designed machines allow for a more streamlined production process and improved ergonomics simplify the operation of the machines. «Customers are asking more and more for products to have a simple, user-friendly design so that they can be used intuitively by those with little technical knowledge,» says Martin Kuhl, Vice President Global Marketing & Sales Services at B. Braun in Germany. This globally-active family business operates in the medtech industry and, amongst other projects, it recently brought a dialysis machine to market.
At an early stage, the company defined their requirements for design and functionality together with Meyer-Hayoz Design Engineering. Martin Kuhl also sees design as an opportunity to set oneself apart. «The design makes our brand promise more tangible. Colours are also absolutely relevant here. This is certainly not the decisive factor for the sale, but it’s a supporting argument,» says Mr Kuhl. He expects that there will be an increased demand for medical devices that look less clinical-like. «For example, an important consideration for us is that patients can undergo dialysis at home. It would be helpful if the device blended in visually with the surroundings.»
«We don’t want to lose out on products»
Christoph Fahrni, co-owner of the LED Werkstatt in Thörigen, also recognises the value of design. The SME manufactures neon signs, charging stations for electric cars and recycling stations. All products are developed in-house and are manufactured in the factory in Bern. «Design is important to us as it adds value to the product and it’s a unique selling point,» says Christoph Fahrni. Design protection is a permanent feature in the company’s development process. The company has invested a lot of time and money into a product which they do not wish to lose out on. Once the product has been protected, it becomes a marketable commodity. The owner may, for example, license the innovation.
Why design protection pays off
The company B. Braun and the SME LED Werkstatt are evidently using design to create added value and are protecting their products accordingly. Design has become one of the most crucial marketing factors for companies and, as a result, counterfeiting is common in this field. Anyone who protects their design can prevent others from using products with the same or a similar design. Protection transforms the design into a tradable commodity and a company asset. Companies can lease (license), pledge or bequeath design rights.
But legally speaking, what exactly is a design? A design is understood to be the exterior form of a product or of parts of a product. It can either be two-dimensional or three-dimensional and its form is characterised by the arrangement of lines, contours, colours and surfaces or by the material used. Examples include the design of consumer items such as cutlery and toothbrushes, industrial designs such as locomotives and production facilities or detail designs such as watch faces, fabric patterns or parts of the body of a vehicle.
In order to qualify for protection, a design must be new, which means that no identical or similar design has been published before the design is registered and the design is sufficiently different from existing designs in its main characteristics.
Tips on protecting your design
In Switzerland, an innovation can be protected through the Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Property (IPI). Here are some tips on registering a design:
Illustrations – these should be of a high quality and should clearly depict the design. Tip: submit black and white images so that the design is protected in all colour variations.
Carry out a search – as registrations are not examined for novelty, it is recommended to carry out a search. Read specialist literature, visit trade fairs or specialty shops. Think about where the inspiration for your design came from.
Term of protection – a design is protected for five years after it is registered. After this, an extension is possible. You can protect your creation for a maximum of 25 years (5x5).
Multiple application – it’s possible to register multiple designs as long as they all belong to the same class of goods.
Registration fees – the basic fee for a design is 200 Swiss francs. Renewal of design protection costs 200 Swiss francs.