Those found copying the registered designs of SMEs will now face fines and possible prison sentences under changes to the Intellectual Property Act.

The majority of the changes will come into force on 1 October this year, including the introduction of a new criminal offence for deliberately copying registered designs, which will carry a maximum sentence of ten years imprisonment.

There will be an exemption for those who unwittingly copy a design, and for those who merely take creative inspiration and go on to make their own product.

Registered designs, which are commonly used in the SME sector, can protect the copying of anything from a piece of furniture to an item of clothing.

Richard Worthington, attorney at Withers & Rogers, said that this was a welcome change to an area of law which has offered too weak protection.

He said:

“The prospect of receiving a criminal sentence for intentional copying sends a clear message to potential perpetrators that falling foul of the law is taken seriously. Whilst the amount of actual sentences may turn out to be low, the prospect of being prosecuted will act as a clear deterrent.”

Another change will give more protection for designers. Previously, design rights would be automatically held by the commissioner of the work, but from October this will only be the case if the designer signs away their rights.

 Image by Brian W. Tobin