Come 2003, it will be possible to file a single application to register a design across the European Union. For more details of the timings, what designs can be registered and another new form of protection for designs now available.
New Law: European Council Regulation 6/2002 on Community Designs.
Hot on the heels of significant changes to the UK's system for protecting designs, a one-stop system for protecting designs across the whole of the European Union will become available very shortly. This will nicely complement the 'Community Trade Mark' scheme for registering trade marks throughout Europe which has been in operation for some 6 years now. The new European Design Protection System also includes protection for unregistered designs.
What will change:
The new design registration system looks like becoming fully effective from 1st January 2003, although this date may slip. From then, the European Trade Marks and Designs Office in Alicante is likely to start processing applications for Community Design Registrations. However, it does look as though it will be possible to file applications for Community Designs within 3 months before that 1 January 2003 date (in other words from 1st October 2002 onwards), in which case the applications will be deemed to have been filed on 1st January 2003.
Once registered, designs will be protected for a term of 25 years running from the deemed filing date, but in order to qualify for protection as a Community Design, it must be new and possess individual character. 'Newness' will be deemed as present if no identical design has been made available to the public before the filing date. There will be 'individual character' if the overall impression the design produces differs from that created by any earlier design.
The Council Regulation also creates a new EU Unregistered Design right. This has been in existence since the Regulation came into force on 6 March 2002. Whether this secondary right, which requires no registration of the design in question, applies to designs which were in existence before 6 March 2002 remains unclear. However, certainly in relation to designs which were first made available to the public in the European Union after that date, short term protection is available throughout the Union.
All good news in some ways for those creating new designs seeking cheap international protection, but only time will tell how these new levels of protection will interact with existing protection conferred on designs by UK law by way of the UK's own domestic design registration system and its own unregistered design right which lasts, by the way, for 15 years maximum, not 3.
What happens next:
We are informed as to exactly when the Alicante Trade Marks and Designs Office will open its doors for the processing of Community Design Applications.
It looks likely that it will be possible to send off applications for Community Designs to Alicante by the autumn of 2002, with the system up and running at some point quite early in 2003.