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  • Writer's pictureRosie Burbidge

Do door handle designs produce the same overall impression?

The EU General Court has reversed a finding of an EUIPO Board of Appeal in a dispute over designs for door handles (Case T‑654/22).

A Czech company called M&T 1997 filed an application for a registered Community design (RCD) for the design shown in November 2012 for “Door and window handles”.

In October 2020, Polish company VDS Czmyr Kowalik filed an application for a declaration of invalidity of the RCD on the ground that it had no individual character because the overall impression produced on the informed user did not differ from the impression produced by the shape of handles existing on the market prior to its filing date. It relied, in particular, on the earlier Griffwerk FRAME design (pictured).

In November 2021, the Cancellation Division of EUIPO upheld the application for a declaration of invalidity. This decision was confirmed by the Board of Appeal in August 2022.

The overall impression of a door handle design

The General Court upheld the Board’s findings regarding the informed user and the designer’s degree of freedom. However, it held that the Board had erred in its comparison of the overall impression produced by the designs.

The Board had made four key findings in that respect:

  1. The two designs showed a door handle consisting of a level in a flat, rectangular shape, a grip in a cuboid shape and a thin profile.

  2. The differences were limited to the curvature of the edges and the shape of the neck and these were not sufficient to produce distinct overall impressions in view of the designer’s high degree of freedom.

  3. A rosette shape relied on could not be inferred from the lines of the design and a shade of colour did not offset the similarities.

  4. The fact that the contested design obtained the ‘Red Dot’ award in 2013 was irrelevant.

The General Court noted that “when the informed user uses a door handle with a grip in accordance with its normal use, he or she clasps its gripping area with the hand, which corresponds, in the present case, to the grip, in order to exert downward pressure so that the latch of the door slides and allows the door to be opened, which can then be pushed or pulled”.

This means the user normally sees the door handle from above and the most visible elements are those corresponding to the outward-facing parts of the handle – namely the front, sides and top parts of the handle. The differences at the back will also be visible and the informed user will easily notice the rounded curvature of the edges of the contested design, which is accompanied by a thinner and smoother appearance.

The Court said that the rounded and thinner shapes of the contested design constitute differences form the earlier design “which will be perceived by the informed user as influencing the manipulation of the handle and are, therefore, important elements in relation to the overall impression produced by the contested design”. Those aspects have an impact on the ease of use of the handle.

In light of these differences and the high level of attention of the informed user, it held that:

“the differences in the angles of the grip and the neck are neither marginal nor minor variations of one and the same design. A more rounded shape generally results in a softening of the lines of the neck and grip, which has a significant effect both on the overall appearance and on the ease of use of the door handle. It is therefore an element which attracts the informed user’s attention.”

The designs therefore produced a different overall impression.

The Court sent the case back to the Board to consider seven other designs that were relied on in the application for a declaration of invalidity.

What does this mean?

It is interesting that the Court found that the door handle designs produced a sufficiently different overall impression, even though it confirmed that the degree of freedom of the designer was high.

The Court also provided useful guidance the law on overall impression. In particular, it must be determined in the light of the manner in which the product is normally used; account must be taken of the fact that the informed user’s attention is focused on the most visible and important elements; and the importance of the visible features should be assessed on the basis of their impact not only on the product’s appearance but also the ease with which it can be used.

To find out more about the issues raised in this blog contact Rosie Burbidge, Intellectual Property Partner at Gunnercooke LLP in London -

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