My science teacher in school (I’m certain most them around the world) always told us how science is connected to everything in our day to day lives. It was quite amusing to understand how it worked practically and I wondered if it was in fact possible to connect something else like we connect science to our daily lives. I have come to realise that I feel the same way about intellectual property and constantly connect it to the things we come across in the course of our daily life – Mobile Applications, board games, food recipes, magic and now musical instruments. So can musical instruments be protected under the laws of intellectual property? Yes! The laws of patent and design provides for sound protection of musical instruments!


As per the Locarno classification (classification of designs based on the goods they cover), Class 17 deals with musical instruments and specifically excludes cases for musical instruments and equipment for recording. Class 17 further classifies the musical instruments based on their type, as follows:

  • Keyboard Instruments – This includes electronic and other organs, accordions, and mechanical and other pianos.
  • Wind Instruments – This specifically excludes organs, harmoniums and accordions as they would fall under the category of keyboard instruments
  • Stringed Instruments
  • Percussion Instruments
  • Mechanical Instruments

To file a design application for the design of a musical instrument, the most important requisite is that it should be novel since if it’s a musical instrument the conditions of it being applied to an article through an industrial process is already met with. Under the law of designs, protection can be sought solely for the design and the mode or principle of construction or anything which is in substance a mere mechanical device is not protected as a design. However, protection for this can be sought under the laws of patent.

The following are designs that have been applied for in Class 17 for musical instruments. The one on the top right corner is a ‘tailpiece of a musical instrument’ also falling under this class.


So how can a musical instrument be protected as a patent? Ofcourse it has to be novel, involve an inventive step and be capable of industrial application. In addition to this, it can’t just be the mere arrangement or re-arrangement or duplication of known devices each functioning independently of one another in a known way. It’s a little tricky in the context of musical instruments, where one string or slight change in the length of a can make a whole lot of difference to the sound that is produced!

There are about 70 patents (keyword – musical instrument) that have been published and granted. I also conducted a search with the keywords table, piano, guitar and sitar and there were very few patents that were published or granted. The ones that did, had something to do with the musical instrument and not an invention of the instrument per se.

One of the interesting ones was a new musical instrument called CHHAR TARANG (1334/KOL/2013). This is a type of musical instrument in which the sound or note is generated by leather and metal string fitted in tension. Through one of the articles online, I learnt that the inventor of this instrument ended up inventing this while trying to modify one of his old instruments.

Another invention titled MULTI-NOTE SIMULTANEOUSLY EXCITABLE SINGLE STRING MUSICAL INSTRUMENT (2315/DEL/2009) consists of a single string which is stretched over a resonator box in the form of multiple U-turns around a set of spindles or pullies mounted on the top surface of the resonator box.

The government of Trinidad and Tobago has filed an application for a G-PAN MUSICAL INSTRUMENT (9695/DELNP/2008) which as per the abstract is an ensemble of acoustic steelpan musical instruments, being an innovation which significantly improves upon traditional acoustic steelpan prior art. This particularly invention has its roots in the World War II when the Government banned drumming and the locals sought out to find alternatives and that’s how the steel pan came into being. For those of you who want to know more, this link provides a great deal of information about the origin of the steel pan.


Protection under the laws of designs and patents have more to do with protecting the aesthetics and functionality of the musical instrument, whereas trademark deals more with protecting the brand. There are many companies out there that sell musical instruments but very few that you can actually strike a chord with (I can think of Yamaha and Casio). Creating and protecting a brand by way of the trademark is particularly important, not only from the consumer perspective but also to stop third parties from passing off your goods or infringing your trademark.

It is always fun to research and write about the interface of intellectual property with things that we come across every day. It is even more interesting to read about the inventions that people have come up with, the Patent Office’s view point on these inventions (which as lawyers we would re-think while advising a client) given that some of them have been granted and also people’s interest to go to any lengths to rightfully protect what they have created. So if you’ve created something that’s worth protecting (and capable of IP protection), go ahead and protect it!

This article has been authored by Nikita, an IP Law practitioner.