Can copyright subsist in a useful article?
Since copyright subsists from the moment of creation without any formality requirement, it is easy for someone to claim copyright ownership over an object with artistic features.
In the case of Sison Olaño, et al. vs. Lim Eng Co, G.R. No. 195835, the Supreme Court explained that a hatch door is not an artistic work within the meaning of copyright laws, but is intrinsically a useful article, which, as a whole, is not eligible for copyright. The only instance when a useful article may be the subject of copyright protection is when it incorporates a design element that is physically or conceptually separable from the underlying product.
To illustrate, a belt, being an object utility with the function of preventing one’s pants from falling down, is in itself not copyrightable but an ornately designed belt buckle which is irrelevant to or did not enhance the belt’s function hence, conceptually separable from the belt, is eligible for copyright as sculptural work with independent aesthetic value, and not as an integral element of the belt’s functionality. In the same manner, a table lamp, being a functional object intended to provide illumination in a room, is not copyrightable. The general shape of a table lamp is not copyrightable because it contributes to the lamp’s ability to illuminate the reaches of a room. However, a lamp base in the form of a statue of male and female dancing figures of semi vitro us china is copyrightable as a work of art because it is unrelated to the lamp’s utilitarian function as a device to combat darkness.