IP Act makes design infringement a crime

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A landmark for ruling for jewellery designers and brands has been passed today, with The Intellectual Property Act becoming law, meaning it is now a crime to intentionally infringe on a registered design.

The changes set out in The Intellectual Property Act have been introduced to reduce the scale of registered design infringement by acting as a deterrent. The changes also increase protection for the holders of registered designs and better punish perpetrators of blatant design infringement. The new Act also outlines that individual board directors can be held accountable for infringement.

The Act means that intentionally infringing a registered design and producing a copy that differs from an original in only immaterial respects now becomes a criminal offence punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

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The IP Act has been described as "a significant development for designers" but for the time being the change in the law will only assist those designers who have registered their designs at either theIntellectual Property Office in England or at the Community Design Office in Alicante. It does not cover unregistered designs.

The scale of the problem relating to designers being copied by larger brands has been the focus on a long-term campaign by Anti-Copying in Design (ACID ), spanning several years. ACID has consistently supported the appeal to the Government to make edits to the IP Act with case studies, demonstrating the scale of the problem while addressing the shortfall in laws to protect designers.

Over the past few years, ACID members have written to their MPs to make them aware of the impact that design theft was having on the job security of their employees and the threat to their growth opportunities. Several ACID members also met with Government officials and Ministers to add their weight to the argument for reform. The case was taken through to the House of Lords and then House of Commons, with the Bill receiving the Queen’s Assent on May 14 2014.

ACID chief legal counsel and a partner at DMH Stallard Nick Kounoupias said: "This is the result of a genuine grassroots campaign and shows what can be done with a well presented case argued with integrity and honesty. To get fundamental legislation of this kind, in which copying of designs is made a criminal offence, from lobbying to law in less than 12 months is nothing short of phenomenal. Criminal sanctions for registered design infringement should be seen as evolution not revolution and the proposed changes are sensible and pragmatic. However, we believe that Government should listen again to the powerful arguments for including unregistered designs.”

ACID chief executive Dids Macdonald added: "I welcome the fact that the IP Bill is a significant step in the right direction. However, there is still much work to be done because the majority of UK designers rely on unregistered rights.

"Way back in 1996 when ACID was just a round table action group, I gave a talk along with design law specialist and co-founder of ACID, Simon Clark, saying we needed design issues to be heard and acknowledged within Government and a change of law to bring design in line with copyright. Little did I think it would take 18 years to happen. Next step is to persuade Government to include unregistered designs, exemplary damages and unfair competition."

At the moment, EU designer counterparts can turn to unfair competition laws if IP laws fail them.

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