Designers urged to sign up to EU registration law

Designers are being urged to take advantage of a Europe-wide design registration law that comes into force on 1 April. It has been created to make it easier and cheaper to protect designs across the continent from potential plagiarists.

The Community Design law will offer protection in each European Union member state, which currently numbers 15 and growing. Until now, designers have had to register their work individually in each country where their designs are available.

As the European market grows in importance to designers in the UK, the issue of Europe-wide plagiarism is becoming a ‘huge’ problem, says ceramics designer Ella Doran. She saw her work copied in France, where her designs were not registered.

‘Plagiarism is a huge issue, particularly when your work is breaking new ground. Anything that supports creativity and makes life easier for designers is good news,’ Doran says.

Most designers fail to take advantage of legal protection. Around 90 per cent of copyright cases that UK anti-copying group Acid fights involve unregistered design, says Acid chief executive Dids Macdonald. Designers can still fight cases on unregistered rights, but Macdonald urges designers to take the opportunity to register.

‘If a product or graphic design is a clear market leader, it’s wise to register it. Now you can make a single application rather than many.’

According to Macdonald, the Community Design law is one of the best parts of the recent improvements in design law.

Under the law, which is administered from Alicante, Spain, by the Office for the Harmonisation of the Internal Market, only one application and one payment are needed per design. The law also makes it possible to file multiple applications, such as an entire range of similar products.

‘Multiple applications operate on a sliding scale of cost, so a furniture designer creating everything from tables to cushion covers could register the whole lot as “furniture” and save a lot of money,’ says June Davies at the OHIM Designs Department.

It costs between @350 and @400 (about £240 to £270) to register designs under the new law, and designs are covered for five years before re-registration is required, Davies says. As in the UK, they are covered for up to 25 years in total.

The new law offers designers much stronger and more extensive legal protection, says Margaret Briffa, lawyer at creative industries law firm Briffa.

‘By registering their work, designers are given the right to manufacture, sell, distribute and licence their designs and this right is [now] extended Europe-wide,’ Briffa says.

The new law doesn’t change the design registration process, which came into force on 9 December 2001, says Patent Office marketing executive Dr Jeremy Philpott. ‘The mechanics are the same. A 2D design registered as a design rather than a trademark, for example, offers a second tier of defence for brands, just as in the UK,’ Philpott says.

Design registration applies predominantly to 3D product designers, but graphic designers, particularly those working with patterned textiles and marques such as football badges, benefit too. Under the law, a piece of graphic design need only be registered once, even if it is applied to several different products such as mugs, T-shirts and posters.

Further details on the Community Design law can be found on www.oami.eu.int.

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