Supreme Court Issues Key Decision Regarding Copyrightability of Design Features of Useful Articles

Earlier today, the U.S. Supreme Court released its much-anticipated decision in Star Athletica v. Varsity Brands.  At issue in the case was whether the design elements (stripes, chevrons, etc.) on cheerleading uniforms are eligible copyright protection. In a 6-2 decision, the Supreme Court answered in the affirmative and articulated a new test to determine when a feature incorporated into the design of a useful article qualifies for copyright protection.  According to the Supreme Court, a design feature will be copyright eligible if the feature (1) can be perceived as a two- or three-dimensional work of art separate from the useful article and (2) would qualify as a protectable pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work—either on its own or fixed in some other tangible medium of expression—if it were imagined separately from the useful article into which it is incorporated.

The decision is likely to have a significant impact in fashion and other high-design industries and may increase the availability of copyright protection for two-dimensional and three-dimensional designs incorporated into useful articles such as clothing, furniture and lighting. Stay tuned for a more detailed analysis of the decision and its potential impact in your industry!