History of designs
The law of designs has a long history dating back to the latter part of the 18th century. Originally introduced to protect the designing and printing of linens and cottons, design law has been extended over the years to cover functional as well as decorative articles.
Textiles and the start of industrial design protection
The first Act dealing with copyright in industrial designs was the Designing & Printing of Linen Act in 1787. This gave a very limited copyright protection to those who engaged in the "arts of designing and printing linens, cottons, calicos and muslin". It gave proprietors the sole right of printing and reprinting for 2 months from the date of first publication, provided the name of the proprietor was marked on each piece. In 1794 the period of protection was extended to 3 months.
The introduction of registration
From 1839 a series of laws were passed, gradually extending the boundaries of design protection. The Copyright and Design Act 1839 considerably increased the protection given to fabrics by extending the law to fabrics composed of wool, silk or hair and to mixed fabrics.
The same Act extended protection far beyond the textile trade and gave us the foundations of modern design law. It gave protection to every new or original design including textiles. It also allowed protection for the ornamentation and for the shape and configuration of any article of manufacture.
This Act introduced a system of registration. A Registrar was appointed by the Board of Trade and unless a design was registered before it had been published, the benefits of the Act could not be obtained.
The Design Act 1842 consolidated all earlier Acts and further increased the remedies for infringement. It also divided the possible articles of manufacture and substances into classes. In 1843 this was amended to extend protection of the Act to designs composed of functional features. This meant that designs such as springs for a bicycle, an oil can and gas pilot light were then capable of registration.
The Designs Registry joins the Patent Office
In 1875 the powers and duties of the Board of Trade under the various Designs Acts were transferred to the Patent Office.
In 1883 a single consolidating and amending Act was passed embracing Designs, Patents and Trade Marks (which had also joined the Patent Office).
From 1911-49 design registration was governed by the designs portion of the Patents & Designs Acts 1907-1946. In 1949 registered designs were once more separated entirely from patents and the law relating to registered designs was governed by the Registered Design Act 1949. The most important alterations in the law was the amendment of the definition of design and the abolition of classification, both of which materially affected the validity as well as the scope of many registered designs.The Registered Designs Act 1949 is still in force today but as amended by the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act of 1988. The act was amended further on 9 December 2001 to incorporate the European Designs Directive. Future amendments and changes will be necessary to reflect the growing and changing needs of design protection.