Design right

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Design right is a complicated issue. Actually, the protection of designs in the UK as a whole is a complicated issue: as well as design right account must also be taken of registered designs and copyright.

Design right - or unregistered design right, to give it its full title - was originally invented by the government as a way to keep copyright out of the industrial designs field. It appeared in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (in Part III), and it looked more than a little like copyright in that it arises automatically, gives protection against copying only rather than being a monopoly right, and protects designs that are original. However, it lasts for a much shorter period than copyright and it is so full of exceptions and licensing provisions that it is a pretty weak right. Indeed, it was described in the second reading debate on the Bill in the House of Commons, back in 1987, by the Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Pattie MP, as "a fair weather umbrella". The moment protection looks as if it might be useful, it expires or is made unuseable some other way.

Nowadays, with the introduction in 2001 of the European Community design regulation, there is also a Community unregistered design right. This has very little in common with its older British cousin, except that it arises automatically and gives protection against copying only rather than being a monopoly right. It protects designs that qualify for registration under the Community system (designs that are new and have an individual character) and lasts only for three years - making it useful for fashion items and to cover the period of grace provided for in the Regulation.

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