The Malaysian furniture industry had a humble beginning over two decades ago as a traditional cottage-based industry. Recording an export value of just RM26 million in the 80s, it has blossomed into the world’s tenth largest furniture exporting nation, exporting to over 160 countries worldwide with the export figure projected at RM6.3 billion in 2004. Having plied the low to medium end markets for the past decade and a half, the next phase of growth for the Malaysian furniture industry is to move away and upwards towards the more lucrative segments, where the price factor is only secondary in decision making.

Image and design take over in these premium markets and therefore, export promotion has a foundation in the enhancement of furniture design. Since due attention has turned to original creation, design has emerged as an invaluable intangible asset. The value of the fruits of creativity and innovative capacity, and its significance to the further development of the Malaysian furniture industry have called for the application of the Intellectual Property Rights (IPR).

The Malaysian Furniture Promotion Council (MFPC), as a specialised promotional body for the Malaysian furniture industry has taken the first strides to create awareness about the importance of IPR to the furniture industry. The designationTM series, inaugurating at MIFF this year, exemplifies original designs registered under Malaysian Industrial Design. Its mother programme, the Furniture Design Services Programme, produces furniture designers with original creations that are registered, showcased and put for sale. In addition, IPR is constantly promoted  through MFPC promotional exercise such as missions, visits and MOUs with relevant local and international organisations. The MFPC is advised on IPR matters by the Industry Advisory Panel, comprising industrial experts and Consulting Advisor of IPR, Pintas IP Group Sdn. Bhd.

According to Senior Executive of MFPC Industry Planning Department, Yau Her Lerk, the general level of awareness towards IPR is at the mid range on a scale of ten but the acceptance of its importance is at the lower end of the scale. He says, “Some of the concerns of the furniture industry players about protecting their designs are the international enforcement and the extent of protection coverage. However, it is also important that the industry understands that IPR is not a concept made for any single individual but is meant for an entire industry which embraces the idea of respecting each other’s rights to intellectual property. That being the case, IPR registration is to eliminate the hassle of asserting an individual’s rights over his creation.”

The MFPC has identified IPR as a vital factor that will elevate the Malaysian furniture industry to the next height. Once the concept of IPR is successfully embedded as part of the Malaysian furniture manufacturing culture, the industry will thrive because there will not be a need to worry about constant violation of design, thus motivating designers to come up with original creations and allowing manufacturers to focus on their productivity. This conducive environment is the ideal set up for the industry to achieve the national objective of penetrating into the medium-to-high end segments of the global market and eventually be accepted in the niche markets – an advantage for the most prominent players in the global furniture arena, like Italy and Germany.

Yau adds, “The MFPC gives a substantial weight to the promotion, application and enforcement of IPR. We will continue to propagate the importance of IPR to the industry and highlight its contribution to the industry’s performance. The understanding on IPR will bring to surface its required presence on the threshold of crossing to the medium-to-high market segments. It will encourage the production of original designs, prevent manufacturers to copy other designs, act as a tool to tackle the premium market segments and command better price. IPR will help the industry to shift from the low-end market segments, where there is a concern that our idle presence will be gradually wiped out as countries like China, Vietnam, Poland and Czech Republic are mounting a strong attack to dominate the entire lower-end market of this industry globally.”

At present, although the MFPC is not directly involved in the IPR management, it is offering some guidance to the industry players who would like to register their products with technical advice from its Consulting Advisor on IPR, Pintas Consulting Group Sdn. Bhd. The Malaysian Intellectual Property Right Corporation (MIPC) or Perbadanan Harta Intelek Malaysia (PHIM), an entity under the Ministry of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs, is the managing body of IPR in Malaysia. The IPR registration process would involve novelty search, filing, examination, publication and grant.

It is important that the industry players be aware of the consequences of not having IPR to their own design or idea.  On this note, Lok Choon Hong of Pintas IP Group Sdn. Bhd. says, “If the IPR to a design or idea is not protected within a certain time frame, the design or idea shall fall into the public domain and the creator shall not be able to exploit it for commercial gain. A worse scenario will be when a competitor may copy the design or idea, register it as its own IPR and use it against the creator.”

So what does a furniture industry player need to know about IPR? Lok has lined out the information below for the benefit of the Malaysian furniture industry players.

What is IPR?

IPR protects intangible assets like ideas, design, goodwill trademark as well as original expression of ideas. Once the said intangibles are registered and protected as IPR, the owner shall have the exclusive rights to deal with them, such as to commercialise, license or assign, for commercial gains.

What are the categories of IPR related to furniture design and manufacturing?

Nature Function Types Duration
Patent Protects inventions, ie products or processes that offers technical solution to a problem a) Article of manufacture
b) Process
c) Machine
d) composition of matter
20 years from filing date of patent
Trademark Protects distinctive sign which identifies certain goods or services a) Product Mark (TM)
b) Service mark (SM)
10 years from filing date of trademark
Industrial Design Protects ornamental or aesthetic aspect of industrial products a) 3-dimensional features, eg: shape or surface
b) 2-dimensional features, eg:-patterns or lines
Initial 5 years and can be renewed, in most cases for 15 years
Copyright Protects original expression of ideas reduced to material forms. 1. literary works
2. artistic works
3. musical works
4. sound recordings
5. performing rights
Usually 50 years after the death of the authors

How can the industry benefit from IPR?

IPR Role Function
Defensive Shield To own and prevent misappropriation of one’s IP assets
Offensive Weapon To use IP assets to protect market and profit
Profit Centre To license IP assets for royalties income
Integrated Role To employ IP assets strategically to enhance the company growth and profitability in the following areas:-(a) Human Resource
(b) Marketing
(c) Branding
(d) Product Differentiation and Innovation
(e) Business Expansion
(f) Tax Planning
(g) Capital Raising

Is locally registered IPR recognised globally?

IPR is jurisdictional in nature. A locally registered IPR is not protected globally. The IPR has to be registered country by country or through some international convention, such as Madrid Trademark or Hague Design, for international coverage.