Atlantic Cities

Does Anyone Own the Rights to Shipping Container Designs?

Does Anyone Own the Rights to Shipping Container Designs?
www.nzraw.co.nz

Locals in Christchurch, New Zealand, happily crowded into the city’s central business district last week, a place they’d been forced to avoid as the city rebuilt and recovered from the damage of a large and destructive earthquake in February. The crowds gathered for the re-opening of a popular shopping mall, though it has since reopened in a slightly different format. Stacked shipping crates have been installed as temporary storefronts, and what's been dubbed the City Mall Re:START project is now housing 27 retailers while the former mall continues its own recovery. Missing their favorite stores and the public experience of shopping, residents have been ecstatic about the temporary mall project. Less thrilled are the developers in England who say the whole thing was their idea.

Boxpark Shoreditch is being touted as “the world’s first pop-up mall,” and is scheduled to open in the Shoreditch neighborhood of London later this year. It’s set to be a collection of converted shipping containers that will house small retailers and local businesses. And when its developers noticed that New Zealanders opened their own version in Christchurch last week, they were not particularly happy.

A recent article from The Press quotes UK developer Roger Wade, who's threatening legal action against the owners of the City Mall Restart project for what he calls a "blatant breach of the Boxpark intellectual property rights."

The Press reports that one of City Mall Restart’s board members traveled to London to meet with Wade earlier in the year to hear about plans for Boxpark Shoreditch that might “inspire” ideas for a temporary replacement at Christchurch’s City Mall. The city’s central business district had been drained of nearly all retail activity since February, and locals were clamoring for something to come back. The shipping container shopping mall idea was simple and cheap to do, so they did it. City Mall Restart representatives say they had plans to use shipping containers even before they met with Wade. Furthermore, they argue, their version is totally different from Boxpark Shoreditch, being oriented in two horseshoe shapes rather than a single straight line.

But Wade and his development groups are not likely to back down from what they see as an outright theft. As members of an intellectual property rights protection organization called ACID – Anti-Copying in Design – it’s expected that they’ll push as hard as they have to in order to get either some sort of licensing deal or even shutdown the project. 

Though Wade has a patent pending for the idea, this controversy raises questions about just how far intellectual property rights can go. Boxpark Shoreditch is by no means the first project to reuse shipping containers for retail purposes. Will this potential litigation make it the last?

Image courtesy www.nzraw.co.nz

Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for The Atlantic Cities. He lives in Los Angeles. All posts »

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