The History of Designs

The Designing & Printing of Linen Act 1787

The Designing & Printing of Linen Act was introduced in 1787 and was the first Act to address the issue of copyright in industrial designs. The Act gave a very limited protection for the design and subsequent reprinting of the designs of linens, cottons, calicos and muslin. The period of protection was two months from the date of first publication but was extended to three months in 1794.

The Copyright and Designs Acts 1839 (I) & (II)

The first Copyright and Designs Act of 1839 extended the provisions of the 1787 Act to Ireland and extended the protection afforded to include those composed of wool, silk or hair and to mixed fabrics composed of any two of linen, cotton, wool, silk or hair.

The second Copyright and Designs Act of 1839 was the Act that gave the foundations of modern design law. The second Act was not limited to textiles. In fact, any new or original design, or the shape and configuration of any manufactured article could be protected. In addition, a registration system was introduced which required that a design be registered prior to it being published in order for it to be protected under the Act differentiating registered design rights from Copyright in unregistered designs. The Act also required that proprietors display their name, registration number and date of registration on the protected article.

The Ornamental Designs Act 1842 & the Utility Designs Act 1843

By 1842, the 1839 legislation has been repealed and replaced with the Ornamental Designs Act 1842 and the Utility Designs Act 1843.

The Ornamental Designs Act 1842 divided the articles of manufacture into classes and afforded different eriods of protection for each class, ranging from 9 months to 3 years. The Act also increased the possible remedies to infringement.

The Utility Designs Act 1843 enabled protection to be obtained for designs incorporating functional features. This brought the protection of designs into direct contact with patent law. Whilst the 1843 Act related only to the shape and configuration of articles of manufacture, and patent law aimed to protect the use made of such articles, many creations which should have been protected as patents were able to be registered as utility designs.

Copyright of Designs Act 1850

The Copyright of Designs Act 1850 introduced the concept of 'provisional registration' for designs – an equivalent to the 'grace period' now afforded to designs. The Act also extended the articles of manufacture which could be protected to include "Sculpture, Model, Cast or Copy within the protection of the Sculpture Acts".

The creation of the Patent office - 1852

The Patent Office was established by the Patent Law Amendment Act of 1852 following extensive English institutional reform. In 1875, the powers and duties in relation to the registration and protection of designs were transferred to the Patent Office. The Patents, Designs and Trade Marks Act was passed in 1883 to consolidate intellectual property by uniting Patents, Designs and Trade Marks together at the Patent Office.

The Registered Designs Act 1949

Designs were governed by the Patents & Designs Acts 1907-1946 until 1949. In this year, the Registered Designs Act was passed which separated registered designs from other forms of intellectual property and provided some alterations to the law. In particular, classifications were abolished and the definition of design was amended. These two features of the Act effected both the validity and the scope of designs that were already registered under previous Acts.

The same Act is still in force today, but has been amended to reflect the changing needs of design protection. Firstly, the Act was amended by the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act in 1988 which importantly introduced the concept of an unregistered Design Right. The Act was also amended in 2001 to implement the European Designs Directive which served to harmonise the law across all EU member states.