Designers benefit from European change in law

Designers should benefit from wider, more stringent copyright laws and find it easier to take action against plagiarism if a European law is implemented in the UK next month.

The 1999 European Directive, intended to harmonise design registration laws across Europe, is expected to be incorporated into UK law on 28 October.

The change in law will present new opportunities for UK designers to protect their creations, obtain money from licences and take action against copying.

Anti Copying in Design chief executive Dids Macdonald says, ‘It’s a step forward in terms of simplifying the law.’

Among the changes to the law, an actual design, rather than a product bearing a design, is protected. Protection will apply to handicraft items and one-off items, not only products mass-produced by industrial processes. The directive will also apply to components of products.

A design registration ensures that the appearance of a product is protected and that it is owned by the designer. It enables designers to take action against anyone making, using or selling their designs without permission, even if that person had not seen or copied the design intentionally.

Registration differs from automatic or unregistered rights, such as copyright. The latter are difficult to enforce in court because it must be proved that the creation in question is covered by copyright, that it is owned, and that the alleg-ed infringer copied a designer’s work rather than created their identical item independently.

A test for individual character will be introduced, whereby if a product produces the notion of ‘déjà vu’ it will fail as being too similar to another item, and thereby lack individual character.

The law will also introduce a 12-month grace period for designers to register their designs after they have been put in the public domain. Previously, if a design was launched before being registered its designer would be unable to register it.

‘[The law] previously excluded functional designs such as a new screw or novel style of lego-type brick, making them more difficult to protect. The new law effectively removes this condition,’ says James Love, head of intellectual property at law firm Irwin Mitchell.

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