I would like to know if any kind of object of design can be protected by the Vessel Hull Design Protection Act, or if it is just to vessel hull objects.

2 Answers 2


Nope, just vessel hulls. The Congress passed the act in response to a Supreme Court case that said the State of Florida preempted the patent laws by filing a similar law. http://floridaiptrends.com/2009/02/23/vessel-hull-design-protection-act-what-the-hull/

Other types of designs are potentially patentable in a design patent.

  • The case of vessel hulls was special because normally there isn't any protection for that particular type of IP. The original prints and lines plans can be copyrighted, but they can be changed without affecting the hydrostatics and hydrodynamics of the lines ("shape") themself. Give the huge expense of renting a tow tank (like a wind tunnel, only with water), it was a lot cheaper to create a mold than to do original design, even if the original copyrighted plans weren't used. Commented Sep 24, 2012 at 23:25
  • To add one comment to this. Boat hulls have always been protectable through design patents. A design patent protects the ornamental features of the design of a useful object (such as its shape). Designers complain that design patents are (1) too difficult to obtain and (2) take too long to obtain. Commented Sep 26, 2012 at 21:38

The statute begins with an original platitude about protecting design rights through the copyright regime:

The designer or other owner of an original design of a useful article which makes the article attractive or distinctive in appearance to the purchasing or using public may secure the protection provided by this chapter upon complying with and subject to this chapter.

17 U.S.C. 1301. However, later the statute defines "useful article" as being limited to a boat hull or deck.

The statute was intentionally structured in this manner. The idea is that the law can be easily expanded by just altering the definition of useful article to include other types of articles. Although it did not pass, a bill was proposed in Congress that altered the definition to include clothing.

Just as a point of background. Copyright is not generally available to protect useful articles (such as boat hulls or clothing) unless the original design is at least conceptually separable from the function. The Copyright Office has a circular on this.

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