UK will seek unregistered design rights protection across EU in Brexit negotiations

The move would give UK designers protection against copying across all EU member states, something that had previously not been assured in the withdrawal bill.

The UK will argue for “reciprocity” of unregistered design rights across the EU in its Brexit deal discussions, according to the government’s draft negotiation document which was made public earlier this week.

Such a demand, if agreed to, would benefit the vast majority of designers working in the UK that have hitherto relied on the strong unregistered design right protections assured by EU law. An agreement between the EU and UK would ensure that designers’ work would be shielded against copying across EU member states.

The announcement is a considerable step in the campaign, which for the last four years has been championed by Anti Copying In Design (ACID) and its CEO Dids Macdonald.

Infographic courtesy of ACID

Alternative is “calamitous” for creatives

When the UK was still a member of the EU, designers were protected by Europe’s strong unregistered design right protections. Such laws ensure that designs are automatically protected in regard to shape, colour, contours, lines, ornamentation and texture for three years.

The designer need not do anything to register the design – hence the term “unregistered” – and the protections come into effect as soon as the design is first disclosed to the public.

Protections of this kind also exist in the UK but are not so far-reaching – only protecting shape and configuration. Designers protected only by UK legislation are, therefore, at a considerable loss with just the legislation.

The government has said it will introduce a supplementary unregistered design right which would mirror the broader EU protection, but this could only offer protection in the UK, not in the EU27 – the number of EU states left after the UK leaves – which is a situation that Macdonald warns could be “calamitous” for creatives.

Infographic courtesy of ACID

“No guarantee”

In a previous conversation with Design Week, Macdonald explained that without an agreement between the UK and EU, designers would be susceptible to copying from overseas, likely from larger companies.

The news that the UK will therefore be asking for reciprocity in trade deal talks has been welcomed by Macdonald and ACID members. However, as Macdonald also points out, this is one positive step in a much larger, uncertain journey – both and UK and EU will have to agree to demands before anything definite.

“This is only the UK’s text and there’s no guarantee there will be a deal or the EU will agree,” she adds.

While this poses a challenge, Macdonald makes clear that after four years of submitting evidence to the government Intellectual Property Office and policy makers, this step should still be celebrated.

“To get this foot in the door is a huge leap for the cause, and also serves as a good acknowledgement of both the economic value that design brings to the UK, but also the intellectual property underpinning it,” Macdonald ends.

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