Under New Zealand law copyright can be infringed by a competitor who copies a three dimensional product (which most products are) in terms of its appearance. This can apply even if one has never done anything to patent the idea behind one”s product or to protect its appearance with a registered design.
But the copyright position in Australia is not so generous. The normal rule in Australia is that if one has the sort of three dimensional product that could have been protected with a registered design then one cannot rely on the Australian Copyright Act to protect its shape. There are some exceptions to this, but not many.
So for a new product destined for the Australian market, particularly where there is something unique and attractive about its shape, it is important to apply for design registration. Because design registrations are only granted for novel, or in other words new, designs it is important to apply for registration before the design is openly exposed. For Australia there are some exceptions to this but it is always best to err on the side of caution and apply for registration while the design is still at the confidential” stage of its life.
In Australia a design registration is relatively easy and inexpensive to obtain. In fact registrations can be granted without the Registry even running an examination step to check whether there is a valid case for registration. Before one can use the registration to sue a copyist it needs to be taken through an examination step, but that can be done at any time during the life of the registration. Again, it is not something that has to be done before registration occurs.