With 80% of the UK’s £209bn design sector consisting of small companies with less than 10 employees, the industry is working in innovative ways to improve these companies’ understanding of how intellectual property protects their designs, and helping to make it easier and more cost effective for them to take action when their designs are ‘ripped off’—as they often seem to be.
Dids Macdonald, OBE, who is the Chief Executive of the UK’s Anti Copying in Design (ACID) group and Vice-Chair of the UK Alliance for Intellectual Property, spoke with Ideas Matter recently about the ways ACID is trying to get the message out to designers, government and business more generally about the importance of IP in the design sector.
When Dids herself started in the business as an interior designer and then a product designer, she found both the understanding and the practicalities of protecting intellectual property challenging: “Every time we brought out a new range of designs they were copied, often by mainstream high-street retailers. So I got fairly angry, but at the end of the day could not really afford to pick up the telephone to lawyers because it was so expensive. And the legal-speak seemed to be very difficult for a designer to understand.”
Anti Copying in Design, which Dids co-founded in 1997 out of an earlier roundtable action group, has evolved into an initiative that promotes education and awareness of IP, prevention, deterrence, support, and campaigning—all with the objective of “encouraging growth through design and innovation and looking at IP as very much a positive force,” Dids explains. Among other things, the group maintains a secure IP Databank for copyright and unregistered designs in which its members can record evidence that they have created designs, provides ‘designer friendly’ explanations of various IP filing and protection requirements, and helps smaller designers get pro bono legal help when their designs are misappropriated.
At present, the group is considering applications and nominations of women for its first Female Design Champion Award who have excelled in the design field and can effectively explain (in 150 words or less) why intellectual property matters. The winner and runners-up—and their explanation of IP—will be announced and communicated on the upcoming World IP Day, 26 April. Not only will this “celebrate the role that IP rights play in encouraging innovation and creativity, it will celebrate the champions that take that forward and the challenges that they find.”
Do women designers face special challenges? “Certainly we have a lot of women designers amongst ACID membership, and they do tend to get IP savvy very quickly. They grasp the need to understand IP and to communicate an anti-copying message,” says Dids. “In terms of what can be done, the cry is the same from all designers: There isn’t enough enforcement, there isn’t enough access to cost and time effective justice, there isn’t the respect of innovation from some major high street retailers whose own success is often carried on backs of innovations, especially in design.”