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Editorial blog

Are your designs under threat? Dids Macdonald gives a few easy steps to protect yourself

13 Sep 2017
By John Gatimu

As a product designer and interior designer I found out the hard way about being copied so I started a round table action group nearly twenty years ago – now ACID represents 1,000s of designers. We campaign, we shout loudly about the value of design and we have a formidable track record of thousands of settlements and mediations.

Are you Intellectual property Savvy? Do you have a proactive IP strategy? Remember, imitation isn’t flattery if it costs you your business so it’s good to think about your IP. Intellectual capital is the DNA running through most businesses whether macro or micro so it is about your knowledge, know-how and how to protect it to achieve growth.

Intellectual property is a property right – so in the same way that you can lease, sell, sub-let, rent or share your home… you don’t want squatting! So it is about permission to use your property and asserting your ownership. And intellectual property in legal terms is about trade marks, your brand, copyright, the written, audio or spoken word or 2D designs, designs whether registered or unregistered and patents for inventions.

The crafts sector is part of a bigger design story success story, worth £71.4 billion to the UK economy and growing at ten per cent per year, but most designers and designer makers are micro or small businesses and so taking legal action, if you are copied, is the luxury of the few.

Design matters, from iconic to everyday design is all around us, enriching our lives as consumers, solving problems. Design is also a communicator; think about all the messages on greetings cards, for example. If they are original you automatically create your own copyright.

As the inventor Louis Pasteur said “Chance favours a prepared mind” and this is so true, so creating a proactive IP strategy to protect your work is essential. Most of the elements of an effective IP strategy really are common sense and low cost.

So, if you don’t have an IP strategy…

Step one

Create one! If you don’t know what to do to protect your work you will be ill-equipped if things go wrong!

Step two

IP isn’t rocket-science, download a little plain old common sense. Become IP savvy, by attending IP events, attending IP workshops seminars and webinars, for example.

Step three

Know your design right from your copyright, your trade marks from your patents and understand some of the myths surrounding IP. For example, it is wrong to think that someone can change a design by a certain percentage and it becomes a new design. Be specific, look at what you are designing and think about what rights you need to know about. Developing and maintaining and growing your brand is critical – so make sure you have registered your trade mark! The Intellectual Property Office is a great resource for webinars and IP tutoring sessions.

Step four

Look at the territories in which you trade – ensure you have the right protection and support. For example, if you are trading in China have you registered your design rights? Chinese registrations (design patents) differ from UK in that there is a threshold of global novelty. The UKIPO have appointed IP Attachés in China, South East Asia, Brazil and India and they are a great hands-on resource for useful help and support.

Step five

Think about what makes your company unique and guard your trade secrets as if they were Crown jewels so create confidentiality agreements for sensitive information. Clarity of IP ownership is critical, particularly if there is an issue. It costs a lot more to disentangle things if there is a dispute if ownership is clear. Not reading the small print makes lawyers rich!

Step six

Lock up your IP and unlock growth using ACID’s own, new Copyright & Design Databank which holds copies of over 300,000 designs, so if you have an idea keep it safe, for example a UK or EU registered design is a monopoly right and lasts for 25 years (EU stays the same at the moment and won’t realistically change for at least two years). ACID has consolidated the deterrent effect of the ACID Copyright & Design Databank in partnership with PIPCU, the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit. We now have a downloadable certificate to prove your IP lodgement, which adds to protection and deterrence.

Step seven

Corporate Social Responsibility: Think about encouraging an ethos of compliance and respect – if we as designers don’t do it no-one else will!

Step eight

Manage Your Risks! Obvious, but keep looking at the competition, identify who the copyists are and keep an eye out offline and online on major platforms. Having a brand protection and enforcement policy for knock-offs discovered online is essential.

Step nine

Proof of IP ownership is essential and when you have this don’t forget to always get the right sort of advice – IP lawyers (many of them are ACID legal affiliates) with specialist sector experience, The IPO, ACID. But choose battles carefully – never sue on principle. Ask yourself ‘is there a quantifiable loss’ consider the evidence of your design corpus, what is the size of the opponent, can you afford to keep going? Don’t forget, to publicise any settlements as this will add to the deterrent factor of your brand. No-one likes their name associated with being a copycat so a good naming and shaming exercise can work wonders!

Step ten

If you don’t want to be copied – shout loudly. Include an IP statement on your website, marketing material, product labelling etc., and it helps, if you are a member of ACID, to use the logo on your website. Look at what Innermost do, they have a whole page and their message is translated into 15 different languages.

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