Changes to United Kingdom Registered Designs Law
The United Kingdom law relating to Registered Designs is to change on 9 December 2001 to implement European Community Directive 98/71/EC which will harmonise registered design law throughout the European Union. The most significant changes are:
It will be the design which is protected, irrespective of the product on which the design appears. Under the previous law protection was for an article bearing a design. Thus, under the new law, for an article bearing a pattern, the pattern itself will be protected, whereas under the previous law only the article to which the pattern is applied was protected. Registration will also be available for graphic symbols (e.g. computer desktop icons).
It will be possible to obtain registered designs for handicraft items, in contrast to the previous law under which protection could only be obtained for articles made by an industrial process.
It will be possible to obtain a registered design for part of an article and for component parts, e.g. the handle of a teacup or the handset of a telephone.
Absolute novelty will be required for a registered design to be valid, unless the prior art could not reasonably have become known in the normal course of business in the relevant field. Under the previous law only local novelty (i.e. within the United Kingdom) was required.
A new requirement of "individual character" must be satisfied for a registered design to be valid, which means that the design must produce a different overall impression from earlier designs on an "informed user".
There will be a 12-month "grace period" for disclosure made by the designer prior to filing an application to register a design. Under the previous law any public disclosure by the designer before an application to register a design was filed would normally have invalidated the registered design, unless the disclosure took place at an officially certified exhibition. However, the grace period should be used with caution since it does not apply to public disclosures by a third party of designs created independently of the design in question.
It should also be remembered that unregistered design right protection may additionally protect an article. However, such protection is currently dependent on strict nationality requirements, with the effect that, with a few exceptions, unregistered design right protection is normally only available to citizens and residents of the European Union. Thus, for those who do not qualify for unregistered design right protection (e.g. non-European companies) the only reliable way of protecting the appearance of an article in the United Kingdom is to register the design.
There is also a proposal for a European Community Design Regulation which will introduce protection for designs (both registered and unregistered) on a Community-wide basis. This is currently expected to be introduced during 2002.