Following the news in April 2017 that the UK was going to ratify the Geneva Act of the Hague Agreement in 2018, it has been confirmed that the UK instrument of ratification was deposited in Geneva on 13 March 2018.

The UK joins 67 other countries who have ratified the Geneva Act of the Hague Agreement, including the European Union, Japan and the USA. As such, from June 2018, those applying for design rights under the Hague Agreement will be able to choose design protection in the UK for international applications.

Tim Moss CBE, Chief Executive, IPO said:

“Design intensive UK businesses generate in excess of 11 per cent of our GDP with a total investment in intangible assets protected by design rights estimated at more than £14 billion.

“The UK’s decision to join the Hague system in our national capacity will give businesses a greater choice in how to protect, manage and register their designs internationally, and save them money.

“Our membership of this international system may also encourage non-UK owners of designs to register their rights in the UK for basing manufacturing, distribution or licensing of their intellectual property (IP).

“These IP assets are important for innovative companies, especially for SMEs. They have a positive impact on job creation and economic growth.

“UK businesses have had to access the Hague system since 2008 through the EU’s membership of it. The UK currently has membership via the EU and is not a contracting party in its own right. Joining in a national capacity creates this option.”

The “Hague System for the International Registration of Industrial Designs” was originally signed in 1925 and was intended to provide a mechanism for the registration of designs in multiple countries via a single design filing authority, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). The Hague System offers advantages such as the possibility to file a registration in a single language and having to comply with only a single set of formal requirements, rather than a large number of individual and often conflicting national requirements, and complements the Patent Cooperation Treaty, which provides similar advantages for patent applications.

However, the Hague Agreement is a closed system and only available to persons based in a Hague member state or belonging to an intergovernmental organisation that is signatory to the Hague Agreement. Until now, UK-based applicants have only had access to filing International Design applications via the European Union (EU), which has been a signatory since January 2008, by virtue of the UK’s EU membership. The UK joining the Hague Agreement in its own right ensures UK-based applicants can access the International Design system whatever happens to the UK’s membership of the EU post-Brexit.

Whilst the UK ratifying the Hague Agreement will ensure the Hague System is available to UK users, this will also ensure that design protection in the UK via the Hague system will be available to other Hague users. This may increase the attraction of the Hague System.

To put this into context, at least from a UK or European perspective, the attraction of the Hague System was hitherto modest. This is because there are several options to obtain protection for a design in the UK. In addition to registering a design nationally with the UK Intellectual Property Office (UKIPO), it is possible to obtain EU-wide protection via the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO).

An EU-wide registration will cover many European countries often of commercial interest, such as Germany, France, Italy, Spain or Poland – and currently the UK. In addition, it is a concern with the Hague Agreement that, although applicants have to comply only with a single set of formal requirements when submitting a design application with WIPO, design protection rules in many Hague member countries have not been harmonised. For instance, some countries have different rules on how many types (classes) of designs may be included in a single application, or how the designs should be represented. Thus, even though it is possible to use a single filing office (WIPO) to register a Hague design, the Hague System does not provide a guarantee that national patent offices will not raise objections to the design. For instance, several Hague member state have filed so-called “Declarations” with WIPO, setting out additional formal requirements for the registration to be valid in the country in question.

The lack of harmonisation leads to additional cost for completing a registration procedure for a Hague design. This lack of harmonisation is not present with EU-wide registrations and so many applicants tend to prefer protection via an EU-wide design registration.

However, the formal requirements for design protection in the UK and the EU are very similar, meaning that a Hague design registration prepared with the UKIPO and EUIPO formal requirements in mind is likely to provide a reliable scope of protection in both the UK and the EU. At the same time, the Hague Agreement also provides the opportunity to additionally designate other European non-EU countries, such as Switzerland and Norway, as well as increasingly important manufacturing bases such as Tunisia, Egypt and Turkey, and Asian countries such as Singapore and South Korea. For a full list of Hague member states, see www.wipo.int/hague/en/members/

As such, the UK’s ratification of the Hague Agreement will provide a cost-effective route to protecting designs in the EU and, separately, in the UK. Hague design registrations are administered by WIPO and have the same legal effect in the EU or the UK as registrations granted by the EUIPO or the UKIPO, respectively.