A trip to the Commons: the Kat reports
Designs under scrutiny again. IPKat team member Jeremy was in action on Wednesday morning as a participant in a seminar, “Understanding IP: Design & Economic Growth”, which took place in the congenial surroundings of Committee Room 17 of the House of Commons. In the chair was Mike Weatherley MP, and the speakers — in batting order — were Chi Onwurah MP (Shadow Minister for Business, Innovation and Skills), Dids Macdonald (Chief Executive, Anti-Copying in Design), this Kat, Sebastian Conran (Designer and ACID Ambassador), Paul Leonard, Business Director (Billings Jackson Design) and Dr James Moultrie (University of Cambridge).
Chi Onwurah was billed to discuss the importance of government setting the right IP framework. While everyone knows that this is a hot-air topic and a filler-in, it has to be said that Chi gave a very good and positive account of herself. She spoke in serious and meaningful terms about her own engineering background and of her recognition of the need to know more about IP and how it works; she also gave a far better impression of someone who was listening, learning, thinking and generally engaging with the subject than we have come to expect from government ministers who have been given responsibility for intellectual property.
Dids Macdonald, speaking next, outlined some of the challenges small firms face when their designs are threatened or pillaged by others. In command of a whole bundle of facts and figures, she painted a picture of misery, uncertainty, anxiety and poverty which many small design businesses would instantly recognise from their own experiences.
IPKat team member Jeremy, speaking with his JIPLP editorial hat on for a change, gave an account of the plethora of rights that affected designers: registered and unregistered design rights at national and European Union level, trade marks at both national and European level too (since registration of product and packaging shapes is increasingly common), artistic copyright, passing off and unfair competition were all mentioned. The fact that design protection is so easy to circumvent was also emphasised.
The next two speakers — British designer Sebastian Conran (left) and ex-Intellectual Property Institute Director Paul Leonard — both discussed their very different experiences within opposite ends of the design sector, Sebastian being involved in domestic products and Paul working with an enterprise that handled large-scale projects which added the flesh of design to the skeleton of architecture and town planning.
Concluding the programme, Dr James Moultrie introduced the early stage findings of research currently
being run by Cambridge, the Design Council and the Intellectual Property Office, which comfortingly seemed to indicate that empirical research backed up the various sweeping and at times rhetorical assertions made by the earlier speakers.
The general discussion was highly entertaining as well as instructive, not least because most of the audience consisted of well-informed academics, businessmen, designers and administrators who could easily have taken up space at the top table as panelists in their own right. The basic conclusions of the discussion were as follows:
- there remains a need to cultivate greater knowledge of design law and the options available to designers than there is at present;
- the Germans do it better than the British and we could do well to consider introducing a tort of unfair competition of the sort which exists in Germany and other civil law jurisdictions;
- there is a huge need to encourage an attitude of respect for intellectual property and to view copying as a negative practice;
- a change of attitude among consumers might not be a bad thing either.