The British Minister for Intellectual Property, Jo Jonhson, announced at the end of March 2017 that the United Kingdom “will have ratified the Geneva Act of the Hague Agreement for international registration of designs by 31st March 2018 and be in a position to launch the service on 6th April 2018”.

The Hague Agreement provides a system whereby design protection can be obtained in multiple designated countries (which are members of the Hague System) by filing a single application with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

Currently, the UK is “indirectly” part of the Hague System, namely as a result of the accession of the European Union to the System itself, rather than in its own national capacity. This is perceived as a limit to the opportunities for businesses seeking cross-border design protection involving the UK, as it transpired from a consultation conducted by the UK Government among several stakeholders (IP owners, lawyers, companies and industry representatives). Actually, UK businesses that wish to trade at international level, but are not interested in an EU-wide designation, must file separate national applications in each single country where design protection is sought. Besides, international businesses that wish to use the Hague System to obtain design protection in the UK must designate the whole EU in the WIPO application.

The outcome of the Brexit referendum has made the UK individual accession to the Hague System even more desirable, because, in case of an exit from the European Union as matters currently stand, the United Kingdom would no longer be part of the international design system at all. Instead, provided the UK joins the Hague System, applications under the Hague Agreement could still cover the UK territory and/or be filed by UK businesses after Brexit. In particular, a UK or EU business interested in design protection at European level would be able to achieve this by filing a WIPO application designating both the UK and the EU.

It is expected that the UK accession in its own right to the Hague System would dampen the Brexit impact on cross-border design protection, as well as result in greater flexibility and tangible economic benefits for design-led businesses.