An Art Armchair: Gio Ponti’s Armchair is a Piece of Design

The ordinance of the Court of Milan issued on May 9, 2017 ended the judicial querelle between the heirs of the famous designer and architect Gio Ponti and the M. company on the one hand opposed to the C. company on the other in reference to the ownership of the rights on the “811” armchair designed by Ponti in the 50s.

The litigation raised in occasion of the last Milan Furniture Fair. The two companies wanted to present a reissue of the same model of armchair designed by Ponti, the M. company called it “D.156.3”, the C. company “811”.

Because of an employment contract binding the designer to the company when the armchair was projected and because of a claimed contribution of the technical office to the creative process, C. thought to be the only owner of the exclusive rights of reproduction on the armchair in question and sent to M. an official cease-and-desist order to stop the production.

The society M. in turn had instituted an urgent proceeding to have its right on the armchair designes by Gio Ponti acknowledged by virtue of a long-time licence agreement concluded with the heirs of the designer. The Court of Milan with the decree issued on April 4, 2017 prevent C. from producing, promoting and commercializing the model in question setting a penalty of 5,000 Euros for each infringement of the injunction.

Thus, the Court of Milan has entirely confirmed the previous protective order issued without considering the counterparty.

The judging authority gave to the model in question the copyright protection granted to the work of industrial design as per art. 2 (1), 10 Italian copyright law.

Even without the official acknowledgements by critics and without the exposition of the model in museums – which are normally criteria applied in jurisprudence to affirm the copyright applicability – there are other topics solving the matter, in addition to the mutual acknowledgement of the parties involved, such as the inclusion of the project in the historical archive of Gio Ponti’s works and its auctioning at a much more higher price than the effective sales value.

As for the ownership of the rights of economic exploitation, the court deemed that C. did provide neither the proof of a collaboration between the architect Ponti and the company’s supervisor of the technical office of the company nor the proof that the creative activity of the designer was part of a commissioning or employment so that C. could benefit from the rights of reproduction of the model in question.

This was confirmed also by the payment of royalties for each sample of the armchair sold in the past and by the following requests to Ponti’s heirs of licensing for the reproduction.

In absence of these proofs, the heirs obtained all the rights on the model 811.

Since C. has not appealed in the time limits established by the law, this ordinance closes the case.