Acid claims IP strategy won’t protect designers

The Government’s first initiative to crack down on intellectual property theft falls short of the needs of the design sector, according to Dids Macdonald, chairman of Anti Copying In Design (pictured right). While she welcomed last week’s publication of the IP Crime Strategy, Macdonald said that ‘a big element’ is missing from the blueprint, namely protection for the UK’s creative industries.

The strategy was unveiled by Industry Minister Jacqui Smith and has been developed by the Patent Office to tackle areas of criminal activity such as piracy and counterfeiting. It will bring together brand owners, the police force, trading standards officers and customs to tackle IP issues. However, design rights fall outside its remit, as – unlike copyrighted material – right infringements are not classified as a criminal offence.

‘We want an IP strategy that provides protection against product infringement, as well as piracy and counterfeiting,’ explains Macdonald. ‘We don’t want to undermine the important achievements in [combating] copyright theft, but we are still lobbying at a grass roots level to raise interest and awareness in design infringement.’

The organisation launched Acid Lobby earlier this year, a division tasked with maintaining pressure on the Government and industry to address designers’ IP rights (DW 8 January 2004).

‘The new strategy falls short from a design point of view, although anything that brings attention to the loss of jobs and money [due to IP infringement] is very important,’ adds Macdonald.

Phil Lewis, senior policy advisor on enforcement at the Patent Office, acknowledges that design is absent from the current initiative. ‘At the moment, design is not represented as much as brands. This doesn’t mean that we don’t intend to [include design], but we wanted to concentrate on the key criminal threats initially.’

Lewis says that participants in the IP Group and task forces may develop the strategy to include sectors that are currently under-represented. ‘We will be moving on and adding other elements. The development [direction] will depend on how the task groups prioritise [the issues],’ he says.

There are currently no criminal sanctions available should action be taken against a copier, or a dealer of copies, of a design that is not already protected by copyright. Design buyers can make use of what Macdonald describes as a ‘loophole’ in the current legislation to copy design IP with no risk of criminal proceedings being brought against them.

Designers are able to take action against another company that is ‘passing off’ a design as its own, but there has to be a proven public confusion as to the originator. Many small or niche design consultancies and their designs do not have sufficient public reputation for this legal remedy to be effective, according to Macdonald.

Last year the Patent Office acknowledged this ‘loophole’ in the current legislation, but claimed that the issue would not receive parliamentary priority. Acid intends to pursue the issue and it is lobbying for the creation of a law that prevents Unlawful Imitation.

In a separate development, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and the Department of Trade and Industry last month launched the Creative Industries IP Forum joint initiative (DW 29 July 2004).

Design rights

• Most 3D products are protected solely by unregistered or registered design rights

• Copyright and trademarks only protect a limited number of well-known products

• No criminal sanctions exist for infringements of design rights, or community design legislation

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