USPTO and Copyright Office Report to Congress on Effectiveness of Vessel Hull Design Protection Act

Evidence Insufficient to Determine Overall Effect on the Boat Building Industry
Press Release

Ruth Nyblod

The Department of Commerce's United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and the Library of Congress' Copyright Office delivered a report to Congress on November 3, "The Vessel Hull Design Protection Act: Overview and Analysis." Congress passed the Vessel Hull Design Protection Act (VHDPA) as part of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, providing intellectual property protection for original designs of watercraft hulls and decks. The VHDPA was slated to sunset after two years, but in 1999, as part of the Intellectual Property and Communications Omnibus Reform Act, Congress made it a permanent part of the law. Congress directed the Register of Copyrights and the Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property to conduct a study on the effectiveness of the VHDPA and report their findings to the Senate and House Judiciary Committees. The report indicates there is insufficient evidence to determine the overall effect of this new law on the boat building industry.

The USPTO and the Copyright Office held a hearing in March 2003 to solicit the views of the public for this study. Several representatives of the marine industry and academia testified. Their testimony, along with the testimony obtained in written comments, is presented and discussed in the report. In their analysis, the USPTO and Copyright Office officials addressed: the effectiveness of the VHDPA in suppressing infringement of the design of vessel hulls; the extent to which registration as provided by the VHDPA has been utilized; the extent to which the creation of new vessel hull designs has been encouraged; the effect on the price of vessels with hulls protected under such amendments; and other relevant considerations.

Although design protection under the VHDPA and copyright protection are both administered by the Register of Copyrights, they are not identical. Design protection differs significantly in most respects, including term of protection, ownership, eligibility, scope of protection and registration procedures. While some designs that are eligible for design protection also may be eligible for copyright protection, design registration does not include a copyright registration. Copyright registration must be made separately. While certain designs may be eligible for patent protection, design protection is not available, and registration may not be made, for designs that have received patents.

The study is available on the Copyright Office website at:

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