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Smartwatches - time ticking for infringing developers

Written by Aasim Durrani on 18 December 2014

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The launch of smartwatches has had technophiles buzzing for some time, with many taking advantage of the various platforms on offer, such as Pebble and Android, and with the upcoming Apple Watch expected to be launched in early 2015. Many early adopters (including the author of this article) have taken to customising their watches to make an otherwise widely available device more personal to the user.

A good starting point for users is the watch face itself; the fact that it is displayed on an electronic screen gives the user the freedom to change the display in a way that owners of traditional timepieces are unable to do. Unfortunately, this has led to a number of developers infringing or otherwise riding the coattails of established watchmakers, with watch faces purporting to be from the likes of Rolex, Cartier and Tag Heuer amongst others being made available. This has caught the attention of Richemont, a company which owns such prestigious brands as IWC, Cartier and Panerai, leading to cease and desist letters being sent to website owners linking to the infringing watchfaces.

Richemont is by no means alone, with Omega, Tissot, Michael Kors, Swatch, Certina, Armani, Mondaine and Flik Flak all taking steps to protect against developers taking unfair advantage of their goods. Watchmaker Fossil is also said to be enforcing its rights, which is hardly surprising, given that its involvement in the Android Wear project has been in the public domain for some time.

Developers should take care not to infringe on any third party’s trade marks or otherwise fall foul of the law on passing off. As a rule of thumb, using a watchmaker’s name (or anything confusingly similar to it) or copying the design of its watch face could potentially land a developer in hot water. This isn’t to say that the industry leaders can establish a monopoly over twelve numbers and two hands on a watch face, as each case turns on its own merits. More often than not, however, an original design will see off any claims of infringement or passing off.

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