The Advisory Council on Intellectual Property (ACIP) has released an options paper for arising from its Review of the (Registered) Designs System.

The Options Paper identifies 3 potential routes for further development of designs law in Australia.

Option 1 would involve addressing a few specific issues in how the 2003 Act works without revisiting the policy settings. This could involve:

  • making the identity of Convention applicants consistent with the rules on entitlement;
  • expanding the rules on priority claiming so that differing formal requirements between jurisdictions do not disadvantage Convention applicants;
  • bringing the rules on entitlement into line with the Patents Act;
  • expanding the prior art base so that it is not just limited to the product the subject of the application;
  • expanding the situations where fraud, false suggestion or misrepresentation can be invoked for revocation purposes;
  • allowing exclusive licensees to sue for infringement;
  • making it clearer that a registered, but uncertified, design does not confer enforceable rights until certification;
  • removing the option to publish a design instead of registering it;
  • reducing the fees for multiple designs included in a single application; and
  • addressing anomalies that have arisen in the copyright-design overlap, especially in relation to 2D and 3D ‘embodiments’.

Option 2 would include the changes identified under Option 1, but going further to bring Australian law more into line with “major trading partners and international treaties”. That could involve amending the Act to allow accession to the Hague Agreement. Changes could involve:

  • extending the term of protection from 10 years to 15 including introducing a require to obtain certification on renewal after the first 5 years and a system of opposition following certification
  • introducing a grace period of 6 months
  • deferring publication to registration
  • introducing customs seizure provisions

Option 3 is summarised in the Executive Summary as:

a wholesale revision of the role of the designs system in Australia’s IP law, including consideration, in particular, of the need for unregistered design protection, and the scope of design protection (including the scope of secondary liability) in the context of technological developments such as 3D scanning and printing. This would also involve consideration of whether protection should be extended to partial designs and whether virtual or non-physical designs (such as screen displays and icons) should themselves be treated as products.

ACIP appears to consider Option 3 would be appropriate if the policies reflected in the 2003 Act no longer make sense or have been superseded. Examples where this might be the case include unregistered design right, full copyright proection regardless of industrial application or broader rights such as allowing registration for parts of products, such as handles, rather than for products as a whole.

The impending availability of 3D-printing, or at least its more widespread take up, is raised as a potential basis for pursuing option 2 or option 3.

ACIP does note that going down the path of Option 3 (at least) would involve costs as well as benefits and concludes:

ACIP does not presently have evidence sufficient to suggest that wholesale change would be in the national interest. ACIP envisages that Option 3 would involve consideration, not only of the designs system per se, but how it interacts with other systems: most obviously the copyright system, but also standard and innovation patents and other systems such as protection for confidential information. Ideally, such a review would also involve gathering more detailed evidence on Australia’s industrial and economic strengths, and developing strategies for industry development in the field of design, as well as more information on the operation of systems, such as those in operation in some European countries, which do not exclude industrial design from the copyright system. Such a review ought to be undertaken by specialist intellectual property economic, business and legal analysts.

In formulating these proposals, ACIP has taken into account responses to a survey it conducted as well as submissions.

ACIP would like to receive your submissions on these submissions on their return from the Christmas/Summer holidays: i.e. 23 January 2015.

ACIP – Review of Designs System Options Paper (pdf)