Designs law reform

IP Australia has published 3 consultation papers on proposed reforms to registered designs law:

  1. Public consultation of Protection for Virtual Designs
  2. Public consultation on Protection for Partial Designs; and
  3. Public consultation on Protection for Incremental Improvements of Designs

There are also 3 one page “fact” sheets to go with them:

(a) Virtual Designs;

(b) Partial Designs;

(c) Incremental Improvements,

but you probably want to read the consultation papers proper to understand them.

Incremental improvements

The idea here is that a designer may file a low-cost preliminary design and within 6 months file the “main design”. The priority date of the “main” design would be the preliminary design’s priority date. The “main” design may include “incremental” improvements over the preliminary design. This apparently means the “main” design must still be substantially similar in overall impression to the design disclosed in the preliminary design.

The term and rights to sue for infringement would run from the “main” design. Prior user rights, however, would end with the filing of the preliminary design.

In addition, after the “main design” has been registered, subsequent applications for “incremental” improvements may be linked to the registered main design. The “main” design and the preliminary design would not form part of the prior art base for the linked design. As with the preliminary design and the “main” design, it is proposed that a subsequent design must be substantially similar in overall impression to the “main” design. It is also proposed that “linking” could be requested during certification if the “main” design is cited against a later design application by the design owner.

According to the consultation paper, the term of the subsequent design would start from the filing date of the subsequent, linked design but end on the expiry of the maximum term (i.e. currently 10 years) of the “main” design.

Virtual designs

The consultation proposes to amend the definition of “product” from “a thing that is manufactured or handmade” to include virtual designs and to define a virtual design as “an intangible thing, the use of which results on the display of visual features through electronic means” and would make it clear it includes images only temporarily displayed on a screen.

It appears it is still contemplated that the virtual design would have to be registered for specific products – so the consultation paper gives the example that a graphical user interface (GUI) could be registered as a user for a coffee machine but not simply as just a “user interface”.

The consultation paper discusses a number of other issues including, in particular, how the copyright / design overlap provisions (Copyright Act 1968 ss 74 to 77A) and, especially, the concept of “industrially applied” would operate in this brave new world.

I guess one could ask, if X registers a design for a GUI, or icon, for a smartphone, does X just lose the ability to sue for copyright infringement in smartphones, or tablets and watches as well, or only after the expiry of the design for smartphones or not lose rights to enforce copyright at all?

Partial designs

This consultation looks at a range of amendments required to permit design registration for partial designs: that is, for parts only of a product. An obvious example is the handle of a cup rather than just the cup as a whole.

The consultation paper contemplates that products for this purpose may be physical products or virtual products or composites. One example given by the consultation is the protection of the pattern and ornamentation of a logo. However, the consultation paper contemplates that the logo would not provide protection for all products but would still need to be registered in respect of particular products such as travel bags, shoes, wallets etc. – that could mean a lot of registrations would be required!

The consultation paper discusses a range of other considerations and, in addition to welcoming general comments asks:

>1. Do you support IP Australia‚Äôs approach (outlined in this paper) to implementing partial designs protection in Australia? If not, why not? 

>2. Would you register your partial designs using the proposed system? If not, why not? 

>3. Are there any particular risks or unintended consequences that would arise from this proposal? 

>4. Would the copyright/design overlap provisions have any adverse effect on how design businesses commercialise their partial designs? 

Submissions

Submissions are due by 8 August 2023.

The consultation process landing page, with links to the documents etc. is here.