The Government published a consultation through the IPO in July 2012 setting out its proposals for improving the framework for UK design law. The changes proposed are as follows:

  • Sanctions: introducing criminal sanctions for deliberate infringers of registered UK or Community design rights;
  • Ownership: harmonising UK law with Community design and copyright by recognising that the designer, and not the commissioner of a design, is the first owner of registered and unregistered design rights;
  • Validity: establishing a non-binding designs opinion service on questions of validity and a notification system to inform applicants for registered designs about potential conflicts to the validity of their designs; and
  • Unregistered Design Right: amending the definition of "design" to make it consistent with the registered designs and community registered designs and extending the meaning of "commonplace" to the EEA to harmonise with Community unregistered design.  

These proposals have generally been welcomed as a "clean up" exercise rather than a major overhaul of the system. However, some concerns have been raised that the extension of the definition of commonplace will cause confusion and uncertainty. Similarly, there are some reservations that criminal judges lack the necessary experience to deal with complex matters of design law (although trading standards and representative trade bodies have been successfully pursuing criminal prosecutions in relation to copyright for some years). The Consultation closed on 2 October 2012.