Insuring and Litigating Design Disputes

What does design, and more particularly the rise of design in modern industrial China, have to do with ERISA and insurance? Little, something and nothing.

A little, because business liability policies often contain advertising injury coverage, which can provide coverage for copyright infringement claims in certain circumstances. You can read my very out of date article on advertising injury coverage - from 1992 - here: Download file. Of note for present purposes, reflecting my lawyerly obsession with footnotes, is footnote one, which details the causes of action covered under advertising injury coverage endorsements.

Something, because one of the areas in which I practice extensively is defending insureds against intellectual property lawsuits in cases where the advertising injury coverage is triggered and the insurer will cover the claim. It is worth noting that this coverage can lead to insurers at least paying for the defense of many types of intellectual property claims, not just copyright infringement actions. I have handled cases in which everything from patent infringement to trade dress infringement actions have been defended by insurers. This comes about because the lawsuits also include a claim for copyright infringement, and the copyright infringement claim triggers the advertising injury coverage, resulting in the insurer having an obligation to defend the insured against the lawsuit. In most jurisdictions an insurer, if it must provide a defense against one count in a lawsuit must also provide a defense against the other counts in the lawsuit (with variations and exceptions not relevant to this discussion, but which can be very important to the particular insured defendant in a particular case). As a result, the other claims made in a copyright infringement lawsuit, such as claims for patent infringement or trademark infringement that are often "bundled" in a lawsuit with a copyright infringement claim, also end up being defended by the insurer. See the following link, which includes an example of a "bundled" case of this nature in which I defended a party charged with patent infringement, trade dress infringement and copyright infringement:

And finally nothing, because the relationship has as much as anything to do with my personal and professional interest in design, and how you protect it. I cannot read an article on architecture, industrial or other design in any setting without immediately thinking about how ownership of it can be protected. There is a fascinating article in today's New York Times on the rise of, for lack of a better term, a commercial design economy in China, that highlights several designers and architects, and their recent work. The article highlights the interplay between traditional Chinese forms and materials, and the country's newest designs and designers. In reading it, I immediately jump to the questions of what parts of it can be protected, which owners/designers can limit the rights of others to replicate it, and how that can be done. Issues ranging from claiming trade dress protection in the products, to an architect's copyright in a building design come immediately into play. It fit with a case I am handling, in which the question of the extent of an architect's ownership of and copyright in his design of a building was at issue. You can find a one paragraph discussion about that case here: