The first and arguably the most controversial change in the bill is the introduction of criminal sanctions on blatant copying of registered designs. A person will face a maximum of ten years in prison for committing the offence. Registered designs will not be unique in this matter. Under the current governing law, infringement of copyrights’ and trade marks’ may also carry criminal penalties.
Aside from the criminal sanctions, the new intellectual property bill also changes the presumed owner of a design. Under the current law, unless a contract states otherwise, an unregistered design is presumed to be the intellectual property of the person commissioning the design. However, under the new bill, the design is presumed to be the intellectual property of the designer.
The intellectual property bill also proposes the introduction of a low cost alternative of settling disputes over registered and unregistered design. The new services, known as the design opinion service, will function similarly to a tribunal, however its decision will not be binding on the courts or the individual parties involved.
The new bill also paves the way for the UK to join the Hague system of international design registration. Hague is an intergovernmental system which provides a method for people to protect their registered designs beyond just their national borders. There are sixty signatories to the system, citizens of the signatories are obliged under their countries laws not to copy designs registered in the system.
It is clear from the above that the intellectual property bill introduces some significant changes to design rights in the United Kingdom. That being said, the bill does leave certain parts of the law relating to designs unchanged. The protection of registered design still lasts for up to twenty-five years (and can be renewed every five years after) and the protection of unregistered designs lasts up to fourteen years. The bill has also noticeably omitted the protection of surface ornamentation which, unlike US law, is considered a separate element from design.