What do designers think of the current IP system in the UK?

What do designers think of the current IP system in the UK?

What do designers think of the current IP system in the UK?

The Intellectual Property Office is reviewing the UK’s IP system so we asked designers about their own experiences in accessing and using it.

This June the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) released the government’s responses to a call for views of the UK designs framework. The report also gave an idea of what designers see as shortfalls in the system.

As the government continues to call for views on the design protection system, Design Week asked industry experts about their experience with the current system.

“The Government says we have the best IP system in the world. This may be true for big business but for SME designers, design law remains over-complicated and access to justice is cost and time prohibitive.

In 2011 David Cameron said that design law had been neglected, and in the 2012 Impact Policy Objectives were to:

  • Provide a clear, consistent, and equitable legal framework for design protection.
  • Ensure a clear definition of what a design right covers and who can claim them.
  • Widen the defences to design infringement.

Fast forward TEN years to 2022 and Government is still asking the same questions about the above issues.

ACID urges action and a level playing field for all designers to provide strong deterrence against infringement with the ultimate sanction of criminal provisions. Why is it a criminal offence to copy 2D drawings but not a criminal offence to copy the design itself? It is a nonsense.

Government asks, “Is the design IP framework fit for purpose?” In its current form, No. Our evidence over 20 years proves that the UK’s 1.9 million designers for too long have been neglected and we need urgent IP reform.”

ACID CEO Dids Macdonald 

“My time working at Dyson taught me the significance and importance of intellectual property in design, it is a subject that remains paramount for many of our current clients. In our role as a leading-edge creative product consultancy, we thrive on the impact we make for people and the world we live in.

In order to remain truly agile and react to the fast pace of development across our projects, we have, on occasion, opted not to pursue the acquisition of IP. The time and cost involved in devising a suitable legal architecture – and to be able to defend it, has at times been displaced by our opportunism to deliver fast with the greatest impact.

We have ambitions to look more earnestly at how we can create and preserve value through securing and protecting our ideas and discoveries. We do however wish to ensure this never becomes a barrier to working alongside the start-ups with whom we love to collaborate, or to getting things out there and helping drive the kind of change the world needs and deserves.”

Matter creative director and founder Matt Wright 

“At Morrama, we often use the current IPO system, and it has been simple enough for us to register designs. Whether or not they have been protected is another thing!

In my experience, as product designers we tend to jump straight to Google to search for patents rather than utilising the government system. It just covers more ground, and the interface is fit for purpose. However, if you need a solid search and concrete answers for a project, most likely you have to reach out to an IP lawyer. They can bring more insights forward than you tapping away on your computer looking for similar products.”

Morrama founder and CEO Jo Barnard 

“I believe the current system is an outdated and lengthy process. Patents are prohibitively costly for many, and in terms of design registration, it feels like a step backwards to create 2D orthographic drawings after spending weeks or months refining the 3D form of a design. We have to be careful about what those drawings show and exactly how to shade them (in grayscale), in order to simply protect the form itself, in any reasonable CMF combination.

The process needs to be modernised in line with the latest technology and design processes. I would like to see the ability to upload 3D CAD data that can be spun around and zoomed in on, with 2D views generated automatically. I like the idea of the process being sped up by using AI comparison tools at the initial stages of a search, with human experts still evaluating the final stages.”

Blond founder and creative director James Melia 

“We invent new things for people, sometimes small start-ups and other times for really large companies, so we’ve been involved in quite a few patents over the years. The way the system is structured means that you can protect an idea (relatively) cheaply for the first year and see if you get traction. Then in the subsequent years the costs really start piling up, but hopefully you’ll have interest by then.

Unfortunately, the process still requires costly lawyers’ consultations and there’s definitely a lot that could be improved from a service perspective, perhaps by trying to emulate services like farewill.com where a lot of the bureaucracy has been simplified and split into manageable bitesize elements.”

Special Projects directors Clara and Adrian Gaggero Westaway

“Whilst a review of design protection by the IPO is welcome, I think it’s unlikely to result in any significant change to the legal framework or process.

We often advise our clients on relevant IP protection options, particularly design registration and patents and support them in preparing applications. Except in specific circumstances where protection is mission critical, we don’t encourage clients to go down that rabbit hole too deeply.

It’s just as important to create a compelling customer experience around your product. If your product is successful, others will always try to replicate your success. Continuous innovation is key – If you stand still, you’ll be overtaken sooner or later, no matter how well protected your design is.”

Kinneirdufort chief design officer Craig Wightman.

“From a trademark perspective, the system is slow and complex at times; any proposals to make it faster and more transparent would be welcome. It’s not good for business when it takes a long time to do things like register a simple trademark – a client of ours recently had to wait for months to register a name and logo, holding up the development of products and ultimately the products going on sale. 


The more our system can dovetail with that of other territories the better. Sadly, ‘the Brexit effect’ would suggest we’re likely to see the opposite of that. But when it comes to registering a trademark globally , different approaches across territories can really slow things down.  We need to see more collaboration globally, not less.


Checking for any similar designs and waiting to see if anyone with similar trademark objects is what takes a lot of the time. AI/image recognition could be a way to improve and modernise the process. A system that can properly analyse new ideas and designs and flag any potential conflicts (while notifying the person whose IP might be infringed) would be a big improvement.”

Thompson Brand Partners strategy director and co-owner Paul McGuigan.


“I represent a lot of designers who get copied. The current system works well, provided they have the rights they need.

Brexit reduced the protection options for designers – they now have to choose between having UK and EU unregistered designs based on where they first marketed their product. This leaves a lot to luck (most designers don’t base launches around the IP they might get) and so isn’t very fair.

I would love to see better co-ordination with the EU system, perhaps through the granting of rights in both the UK and EU if the design’s launch is simultaneous in both.  I’d also like to see designers making better use of the registered design system, which is cheap and effective.”

Gowling WLG partner (and IP specialist) John Coldham

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