IP Cases & Articles

UK designers back design fee reductions

In our February 2016 patent newsletter we reported on the UK Intellectual Property Office's (UKIPO) "Proposal for changes to Registered Design Fees", which suggested a decrease in the official fees payable to obtain and maintain registered design protection in the UK. The related consultation expired on 29 January 2016, and the UK Government has now published its response.

Our previous article predicted support for the proposed fee reductions from interested parties, and this has proved true. In response, the government has pledged to implement the proposed changes.

The proposal

While several motivations for a reduction in official fees for registered designs were cited in the proposal, a significant driving factor was the introduction in September 2015 of an online application service for registered designs. This is cheaper for the UKIPO to administer than the traditional paper-based application process (which is still operational), and it was deemed appropriate that the financial savings should be passed to the users, with charges set to cover costs in line with the government's "Managing Public Money" agenda.

Accordingly, it was suggested that application fees via the online system be set lower than the corresponding fees for paper applications, with particular benefit being offered for applications comprising multiple designs. Among other changes, a decrease in design renewal fees was proposed, with the total cost of maintaining a design for the maximum term of 25 years being significantly reduced.

The consultation

Several questions were asked in the consultation, including a general request for comments on the proposal, and specific questions about the expected impact of the changes on respondents' design registration strategy and practice.

Sixteen responses were received, which may seem a small number, but several were from significant professional, industrial and business bodies, including the Design Council, thereby representing a much larger number of individual respondents. All respondents were in favour of the proposals, with particularly strong support from SMEs and individual designers, as might be expected.

In addition to approval of lower fees, it was noted that online applications and improved arrangements for multiple design applications would compare more favourably with the application process for registered Community designs (RCDs) run by the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO, formerly OHIM).

The consultation also comprised an anonymous online survey seeking agreement or not with particular aspects of the suggested fees, namely: the reduced cost for a single online application, the reduced cost for an online application for up to ten designs, and the lower total renewal fee charge. Averaged across these three questions, the overall response from 35 parties was a 73% approval rating. There was some feeling that the suggested lower fees were still too high, however. This was particularly true for renewal fees, but contradictorily, it was felt that lower renewal fees would undesirably encourage renewal of redundant designs.

The outcome

The high level of approval expressed has enabled the government to proceed with putting the proposal into effect. Amendment of the relevant UK designs legislation is required to change the current fees, which have been in force since 2006. This is to be done at the "next suitable opportunity", although there is no indication as to when this might be. The government will provide a regulatory impact assessment and guidance to business to support the changes.

The new fees

No alteration of the suggested fees as set out in the proposal is intended. A table of all relevant fees which will come into force can be found in both the proposal and response documents. Highlights include:

  • A £50 fee for a single on-line application.
  • A £70 fee for a multiple on-line application covering up to ten designs plus £20 for every additional 10 designs.
  • A total renewal cost of £410 for 25 years (payable over five year intervals).

The new fees will represent a dramatic reduction in the cost of protecting designs in the UK, and will no doubt be hugely welcome to businesses. In particular, the much cheaper rates for multiple designs will ease the financial burden of protecting whole collections of designs and enable more parts and features of a design to be registered.

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