The Intellectual Property Bill: what’s new for designs?

The Intellectual Property Bill (the draft bill) has been working its way through Parliament throughout the summer and autumn and is likely to be enacted in 2014. Arguably, the most eye-catching of the draft bill’s provisions concern patents, in particular the new powers to enable the UK to implement the Unified Patent Court Agreement, but there are a number of important provisions relating to UK unregistered design rights and to registered designs of which the owners of intellectual property rights in designs need to be aware. First, however, a quick reminder of the current registered design regime.

The Registered Designs Act 1949, as amended, provides a regime for the protection of designs against copying by third parties. More specifically, it states that registration of a product protects the ‘appearance of the whole or a part of a product resulting from the features of, in particular, the lines, contours, colours, shape, texture or materials of the product or its ornamentation’. A product for these purposes is any industrial or handicraft item.

In addition, a design may be registered as a Community-registered design pursuant to EC Regulation No 6/2002. Designs can be registered and protected by a single right that applies to all member states of the EU, conferring upon the holder an exclusive right to use the design and prevent third parties from doing so for 25 years, with no requirement to prove that the design has actually been copied. A ‘design’ is defined in the regulation to mean the appearance of the whole or a part of a product resulting from the features of, in particular, the lines, contours, colours, shape, texture and/or materials of the product itself and/or its ornamentation. The regulation goes on to define a ‘product’ as meaning any industrial or handicraft item, including parts of a more complex product, packaging, get-up, graphic symbols and typographic typefaces…

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