Sebastian Conran takes IP debate to MPs

The issue of intellectual property moves centre stage as Sebastian Conran makes the case for stronger legislation in Parliament. Tom Banks reports

Sebastian Conran will call for more accountability and reduced litigation costs when he addresses Parliament on the importance of intellectual property protection for designers tomorrow.

Conran says, ‘I think to ease the cost of enforcement and protection would make people think twice about knocking off other people’s designs.’

Drawing comparisons with counterfeit medical drugs and car parts, Conran will speak at the Intellectual Property Awareness Network’s event about how the British legal system doesn’t offer enough protection from IP theft.

He says, ‘It’s important that Britain attracts the best creative minds in business, to make London and the UK inspiring creative places. When I’m designing something, the last thing I think about is being ripped off.’

There are four types of IP under British law – patents, trademarks, copyright and design. Registering a design with the Intellectual Property Office costs £60 for a single design. Multiple applications cost £40 per design. According to the IPO, ‘By registering a design, the proprietor obtains the exclusive right for 25 years.’ But according to Anti Copying in Design, infringing design right does not carry criminal sanctions, while infringing copyright does – with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 stating that ‘making or dealing with infringing articles’ carries a ‘six-month sentence or a £5000 fine’. The organisation wants to redress this ‘moral disparity’.

Conran cites occasions when he himself has been involved in IP disputes.

‘We’ve designed and shown a product to a major retailer in a presentation and then a year later someone high-profile from the same company brings out something astonishingly like it,’ he says.

He does admit, however, that ‘it is easy to unintentionally copy things’, citing ‘a multi-million pound concept well into production’ for a homeware group that was beaten to market by a rival’s product.

‘It caused much panic and suggested one company had been nicking the other’s ideas, but it turned out to just be a reflection of the zeitgeist,’ adds Conran.
Plymouth-based consultancy Studiospaceone claims it was the victim of IP theft in May, when, having developed identity proposals for an online gaming brand, it made some adaptations before communications broke down.

‘That’s when it all went wrong,’ says Sam Gray, managing director with the consultancy. ‘We heard they had used an internal designer, pulled her away and then hired someone from Beirut.’

A motif, speech-mark design and colour palette from Studiospaceone’s final design are all Gray’s intellectual property, he says, but each appears in the final design, for which the consultancy hasn’t as yet been credited or paid.

‘We haven’t been paid, but we have received our deposit – which we had to fight to get before the work started,’ explains Gray, who adds, ‘We went to IP attorneys who said there is a case to take forward, but we can’t afford to take on a company with that much muscle.’

Anti Copying in Design may offer a service that can help designers in Gray’s position. The Acid design databank holds 300 000 copies of pitches.

Acid is one of 40 IPAN members and Dids Macdonald, Acid chief executive, will be organising the IPAN parliamentary evening. Macdonald explains that the database scheme, ‘is free, and if you’re pitching it means a third party is holding the information and can provide an audit trail’.

‘It’s about trying to get a result without going to court so a licensing deal can be brokered,’ says Macdonald. ‘IPAN wants to raise awareness, but we at Acid want design copying to have criminal sanctions and make the recommendation of dissuasive action.’

The newly instated Minister for Higher Education and Intellectual Property, David Lammy, has agreed to host the parliamentary event, and IPAN chairman Paul Leonard anticipates the potential for Lammy to implement change, ‘if he sticks around longer than his two predecessors’. ‘He seems to be on the ball and has already been involved with the Strategic Advisory Board for IP and the IPO,’ says Leonard.

Lammy also raised the ‘economic value’ of IP at the World Economic Forum earlier this month.

Intellectual Property Legal Battles:

  • According to research carried out by law firm Freshfields Buckhaus Deringer, 38% of IP-owning companies have indicated an ‘increased willingness’ to take competitors to court in an effort to protect their IP rights during the current recession
  • In addition, it found that 75% of companies say that IP remains a key priority in the downturn
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  • Edo Smitshuijzen November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Designers should work hard to try to end the legal difference between design protection and copyright protection. Keeping a difference is no longer possible to explain, even by lawyers.

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