UK design law updated and brought into line with EU provisions

01 October 2014

The Intellectual Property Act 2014 includes a number of updates to UK design law which come into effect on 1 October 2014. In brief, the most important changes are:

(i) If a design is commissioned, rights to the design will now be owned by the designer (rather than the person that commissioned the design) unless there is a  contract that provides otherwise. Employers will continue to own rights in any designs produced by their employees as part of their normal duties. 

This is a significant change and means it is important to ensure a written contract is in place assigning ownership of rights in any designs commissioned from an external agency.

(ii) The definition of a design for the purposes of unregistered design right (‘UDR’) has been narrowed slightly so it will no longer cover a trivial part of a product (a ‘part of a part’). This means copying a very minor aspect of another’s design may no longer infringe UDR, though it will be for the courts to determine whether the copied aspect of the design is so trivial as to be excluded from the new definition. 

(iii) Intentionally copying a UK or EU registered design, knowing or having reason to believe the design is registered, will become a criminal offence, carrying the penalty of a fine or a prison sentence of up to ten years. This will not apply to accidental or incidental use of the design.

(iv) Where a person uses a design in good faith that is subsequently registered by another person, there will be some protection from an infringement action. The protection is limited to the use of the design that was planned at the time the design application was filed. To ensure being able to exploit a design fully, it is still best to register the design at the earliest opportunity.

The UK Intellectual Property Office has produced a detailed guide for businesses to all the changes and their implications, and this can be found here

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Michael Conway
Michael Conway
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Martin Krause
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