Designs - a brief history

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As a result of the mechanisation of the textile industry as part of the Industrial Revolution the Designing & Printing of Linen Act was passed in 1787. This gave limited copyright protection to those who engaged in the "arts of designing and printing linens, cottons, calicos and muslin".  Proprietors were granted the sole right of printing and reprinting them for two months from the date of first publication, provided the name of the proprietor was marked on each piece. The intention was protect the "design" long enough to get it onto market. Seven years later the period of protection was extended to three months.

The Copyright of Design Act 1839 extended the protection consisting of wool, silk or hair and to mixed fabrics made up of any two of the following materials: linen, cotton, wool, silk or hair. It extended protection beyond textiles. 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 also introduced a system of registration.

The Design Act 1842 consolidated all earlier Acts and 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. Applicants were required to submit a written description of the design.

In 1875 the powers and duties of the Board of Trade under the various Designs Acts were transferred to the UK Patent Office by the Copyright of Designs Act 1875, through the Designs Registry which still carries out the registration of designs in the UK. In 1883 a single consolidating and amending Act was passed embracing Designs, Patents and Trademarks (which had also joined the UK Patent Office).

The Copyright Act of 1911 introduced the concept of infringement of an artistic work by "reproduction in a material form" this included the conversion of a two-dimensional design into a three-dimensional article. 


Designs - a brief history-sketch

The 1926 Bill was eventually enacted as the Industrial & Commercial Property Protection Act 1927 and the Irish Patents Office was established with its headquarters at 45 Merrion Square, Dublin 2 headed by the Controller of Patents, Designs and Trademarks. Apart from a minor amending Act in 1929 it remained the law relating to designs until 2001.The Register established under this legislation is a paper register and is still in effect in relation to designs register under the Act. D.1 the first design registered was registered by Charles Macintosh & Co. Ltd., Cambridge, Manchester.

Amongst the most prolific of the early applicants for registration of a design was "The Dunlop Rubber Co. Ltd. Fort Dunlop, Erdingham, Birmingham " - who filed 45 of the first 100 designs registered 

Sample of early registered design


On 1st April 2003 the Community Design came into effect. The Community Design provides protection across all 25 EU member states. In order to be registered, designs must be new and have an individual character. The period of protection for designs is a maximum of 25 years.

 In addition to the Registered Community Design (RCD), the Unregistered Community Design (UCD) was introduced. This protection is from the date of disclosure of designs to the public within the European Union. Protection of the UCD's is for three years.
Such is the success of the Community Design that 77,661 Designs were registered at the end of 2004.

Examples of some early designs

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Designs - a brief history-sketch-1
"A Tyre"
Designs - a brief history-sketch-2
"Safety Razor Blade"
Designs - a brief history-sketch-3
"Frames or stands for holding medals, clocks, pictures and the like"