Issue 56 | March 6, 2003
Vessel Hull Design Protection Act Under Review
 A public hearing to review the effectiveness of the Vessel Hull Design Protection Act ("VHDPA," 17 U.S.C. Chapter 13) will take place on March 27, 2003, at 10 a.m. in Room LM-414 of the James Madison Memorial Building, First and Independence Avenue, S.E., Washington D.C. Notices of intent to participate in the public hearing must be faxed to (202) 252-3423 or emailed to wroberts@loc.gov by March 20.

The VHDPA was signed into law on October 28, 1998 and slated to expire two years later. However, in 1999, as part of the Intellectual Property and Communications Omnibus Reform Act, the VHDPA was made a permanent part of the law. In making the VHDPA permanent, Congress directed the Register of Copyrights and the Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office to conduct a study on the effectiveness of the VHDPA and to report their findings to the Judiciary Committees of the Senate and House of Representatives by November 1, 2003.

This little-known law provides sui generis intellectual property for protection for original designs of vessel hulls. It grants owners of vessel hull designs certain exclusive rights, as long as an application for registration of the design is filed with the Copyright Office within two years of the design being made public. Protection is provided only to designs that are embodied in actual vessel hulls that are publicly exhibited, publicly distributed, or offered for sale, or sold to the public on or after October 28, 1998.

Although hull design protection and copyright protection are both administered by the Register of Copyrights, they are not identical. Hull design protection differs significantly in most respects, including term of protection, ownership, eligibility, scope of protection, registration procedures, and cancellation procedures . While some designs that are eligible for design protection may also be eligible for copyright protection, copyright registration must be made separately. Furthermore, hull design protection is not available, and registration may not be made, for designs that have received patent protection.

The effective date of a vessel hull design registration is the date on which the Copyright Office publishes notice of the registration on the Copyright Office website. The VHDPA also requires that when a protected vessel hull design is made public, the owner must mark it with a design notice that includes, among other things, the name of the owner, an abbreviation by which the name can be recognized, or a generally accepted alternative designation of the owner. As an alternative, the notice may include "any distinctive identification of the owner" if the distinctive identification has been recorded with the Copyright Office before registration of the design.

To discuss this topic further, please contact the author, Bill Heinze, at Thomas, Kayden, Horstemeyer & Risley. The information contained in this email is provided for informational purposes only and does not represent legal advice. Neither the APLF nor the author intends to create an attorney client relationship by providing this information to you through this message.