On Wednesday 6 May 2015, the Australian Government’s Advisory Council on Intellectual Property (ACIP), released its report on the Australian designs system. By way of background, the Designs Act 2003 introduced significant changes to the way in which designs are protected and enforced in Australia, and in recent years concerns have been raised about the effectiveness of that system. The report, which is the first comprehensive review of designs law since the implementation of the Designs Act, assesses the performance of the designs system over the last decade, and looks at a range of issues including enforcement of design rights and the interrelationship between designs and other intellectual property rights.

Key recommendations include:

  • Designs protection should be harmonised with international treaties and practice to reduce red tape and the cost to Australian businesses exporting products. This includes changes to how claims are dealt with, whether multiple applications are allowed and streamlining formalities such as written descriptions and the requirement for drawings. This may eventually result in Australia acceding to the Hague Agreement Concerning the Registration of Industrial Designs, which would allow a single international design application.
  • Several of the changes under the Designs Act should be revised, in particular there should be compulsory examination for renewed designs, removal of the option for publication of designs as an alternative to registration and the re-introduction of an opposition process.
  • A grace period should be introduced to protect against inadvertent disclosure of a design.
  • Consistency between the designs and copyright legislation needs to be improved, in particular, the current limitation on copyright protection for industrial designs. However, ACIP was not prepared to make broader recommendations for wholesale reform of the copyright/design overlap at this stage.
  • Customs should be empowered to seize goods that infringe design rights.

Interestingly, ACIP reflected on the impact of new technologies on design protection, but considers that reform to address challenges posed by technologies such as 3D printing would be premature and should be addressed by looking at the IP system as a whole. A full copy of the report can be found at: http://www.acip.gov.au/reviews/all-reviews/review-designs-system/.