Monday, 21 April 2014
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Design rights and wrongs

The Government’s move to criminalise deliberate copying of design certainly looks like a good move for designers worried about being ripped off.

But dig a little deeper and it’s clear complexities remain.

The new legislation, announced by the Intellectual Property Office, makes infringement of design right a criminal offence – rather than the civil infringement it previously was.

But design right itself is a seemingly marginal protection. Yes it covers unregistered designs, but only 3D designs (products and furniture but not graphics or illustrations) and is only effective in the UK.

So while creating a new crime doubtless sends out the right  message – and hopefully makes serial copiers less likely to offend in future – the practical effect would seem to be minimal.

While the law change – and the Hargreaves Review that led to it – are admirable attempts to clarify IP protection in the UK, it’s still a hugely complicated system.

As the IPO itself admits, due to the historical development of IP and design law, there are a number of (occasionally overlapping) rights applicable in the UK – copyright, registered design, unregistered design rights (etc).

With this in mind – and with the effectiveness of some of this protection under question – it’s no wonder that social media, and in particular Twitter, seem to be becoming an effective way for designers to protect their creations, with illustrators naming and shaming big brands who have ripped them off on a seemingly daily basis.

This added scrutiny on potential IP offenders appears to be effective – if slightly vigilante-like. What is probably more effective is to use some of the many great resources (such as Anti-Copying in Design) that exist to help designers protect their work.

But what would be most effective would be an IP system that doesn’t leave designers scratching their heads and in danger of being unprotected.

This new announcement is a step in the right direction, but there’s still a long way to go.

Readers' comments (1)

  • Like I said on Dezeen, I have to agree with Sam Jacob on this topic, this will "protect existing interests instead of promoting innovation"

    What does this mean for open source design and 3d printing and like we have seen with the smartphone legal battles between giants such as Apple, Samsung and HTC is it possible to claim a rectangular shaped phone with a flat screen as IP when there are fewer other design alternatives.

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