Radice stool by Industrial Facility for Mattiazzi

UK to criminalise deliberate copying of design

News: the deliberate copying of a design is set to become a criminal offence in the UK, in line with the law on breaching copyright and trademarks.

The change, announced this week by the Intellectual Property Office, is intended to simplify and shorten the legal process surrounding design right disputes by moving them from the UK's civil courts to its criminal courts.

Design right provides automatic protection for the three-dimensional shape of an unregistered design – although not its two-dimensional aspects, such as surface patterns – and lasts a maximum of 15 years.

The trade organisation Anti-Copying in Design (ACID) welcomed the government's decision, but said there was still "a long way to go".

"It's great that the government has taken a first step to protect designers from those who copy their designs, but there is still a long way to go to ensure we receive the same protection as musicians or filmmakers," said ACID chief executive Dids Macdonald.

In a column today, Design Week editor Angus Montgomery agreed that the UK's current intellectual property system leaves designers in danger of being unprotected.

"[D]esign right itself is a seemingly marginal protection. Yes, it covers unregistered designs, but only 3D designs (products and furniture but not graphics or illustrations) and is only effective in the UK," he said.

"So while creating a new crime doubtless sends out the right  message – and hopefully makes serial copiers less likely to offend in future – the practical effect would seem to be minimal."

The government is also introducing changes to ownership so that a commissioned design is now owned by the designer, not the commissioner, as it had previously. The proposed changes can be read in full here.

Today's announcement follows the government's recent decision to extend copyright protection on industrial design from 25 years to the length of the author's life plus 70 years – see all news about copying.

In Milan last month, designers including Marcel Wanders and Tom Dixon told Dezeen in a movie (below) how they are responding to the phenomenon of copying. "It’s become an increasingly big problem for us," said Dixon. "People can steal ideas and produce them almost faster than we can now."

However, in a recent opinion column for Dezeen, architect Sam Jacob argued that the extension of the copyright term for design would "protect existing interests instead of promoting innovation".

Photograph shows Radice stool by Industrial Facility for Mattiazzi.