Furniture and originality in Switzerland

The Swiss Federal Supreme Court has ruled in a copyright lawsuit regarding an individual character of furniture.

The case at hand concerns a design of chairs and bar stools created by the Swiss designer Max Bill in the 50s and 60s of 20 century. These designs have been used by Horgenglarus since them producing the relevant furniture.


After the death of Max Bill his copyrights started to be managed by the Bill Foundation which gave a license to Horgenglarus that was terminated in 2001. The manufacturer continued to use the designs which provoked a lawsuit. Horgenglarus contended that designs at point did not enjoy any copyright protection because they did not have the necessary individual character to be considered “works” in the sense of copyright law.

The commercial court upheld only the copyright protection over the frame chair considering the bar stool as lacking individual character taking into account the previous similar stools.


The Supreme court reversed this decision stating that “the degree of individuality (originality) required for a work to have individual character depended on the degree of freedom the category of works permitted. If the degree of freedom was limited, even minor deviations from known designs could convey individual character.”

According to the court the fact that separate elements from the stool are similar to the previous one it doesn’t mean that the relevant design is lacks of originality because the assessment requires the entire design to be taken into consideration.

Based on the foregoing, the court considers that the individual elements had never been combined in the way Max Bill combined them so the work was unique at the time of creation.

More information can be found here.

Source: IP Kat.