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10 Year Prison Sentences for Design Rights Infringers

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) has announced that premeditated infringement and sale of registered designs for commercial gain will hold criminal penalties of up to ten years in prison in future.

Under the present law, firms may only pursue civil remedies against infringers for theft of registered designs. Meanwhile, similar theft and sale of stolen DVDs and films is considered a criminal offence, punishable by a prison sentence of up to ten years under the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988.

How Will the Design Theft Law Apply?

The new design theft law will apply to designs of computers, cars, furniture, smartphones, and other manufactured products, registered in the UK or the EU.

Following the 2011 Hargreaves Review on Intellectual Property Rights, which found that the civil remedies available to designers were difficult for firms to understand and pursue, the IPO began to investigate methods to simplify, better enforce, and improve regulations supporting the intellectual property in the design industry.

The most significant reform to result is that the law will be changed so that penalties for convictions related to intentionally stealing and selling registered designs will match the criminal penalties currently applied to those who are convicted of intentionally pirating DVDs or films for commercial gain.

Why Have Heightened Criminal Penalties?

The UK intellectual property design sector is valued at approximately £33.5 billion per year, so these heightened criminal penalties are expected to result in a significant boon to legitimate designers and intellectual property holders who have registered their manufactured intellectual property.

Using the DVD and film offences as precedent, this shift to harmonize intellectual property theft with existing intellectual property theft criminal penalties is expected to prevent losses by presenting a more significant deterrent to infringers profiting off registered designs in the UK.

Additionally, designers may enjoy greater certainty in the protection of their intellectual property, which will incentivize increased financial investment to fuel domestic creative industries.


The design industry and the Anti-Copying in Design group lobbied heavily for these new legal protections for registered designs. Proponents of criminal penalties for premeditated theft and sale of registered designs pointed out there is no logical difference between the protected intellectual property in DVDs and films, and they based their call for reform on the criminal penalties found in the Copyright Designs and Patents Act of 1988.

However, critics warn that enforcing a legal monopoly with criminal sanctions may result in a public backlash for implementing too harsh a sentence on behaviour the public may not view as criminal. Furthermore, concerns have been expressed that the evidence may not be sufficient to prove that these enhanced penalties will actually accomplish the purported deterrence and may overwhelm the criminal justice system.

Nonetheless, the IPO maintains that creating criminal penalties for intentional theft of registered designs for commercial gain is necessary to harmonise intellectual property protections and is necessary to best protect designers as well as to support innovation.

If you need help protecting intellectual property rights or making or defending claims in relation to intellectual property, Rollingsons has experienced lawyers who can assist you. For more information please contact James Crichton via e-mail or by telephone on 0207 611 4848.