|© 2018 Jane Lambert: All eights reserved|
All over the United Kingdom, makers have responded magnificently to appeals for personal protection equipment and other devices by hospitals, care homes, general medical practitioners and essential workers in their localities and beyond.
A typical example is the efforts by businesses and individuals on Anglesey organized by M-SParc (the Menai Science Park) to make and distribute masks and shields to local health and social care workers (see PPE Masks/Shields on GoFundMe). Yesterday, I learned of a nationwide campaign called Shield to coordinate such efforts.
I also learned of a government-backed initiative for InnovateUK to invest £20 million in innovative responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath (see InnovateUK to fund Innovative Responses to the COVID-19 Pandemic 12 April 2020 NIPC Inventors Club).
Investment on that kind of scale needs legal protection. While the priority must be to save lives and minimize infection, it is in the interests of care providers and patients that the rights of solution providers are recognized and respected. As I said in IP Services During the Emergency 23 March 2020 NIPC Inventors Club, the laws that protect those rights known collectively as "intellectual property" have never been more important than they are now.
So. What are those rights?
Well, they include monopolies of the manufacture, importation, holding, marketing or distribution of products that are new, inventive and useful that do not fall within a number of statutory exclusions. These are known as patents and they can last up to 20 years. They cost several thousand pounds to obtain and even more to maintain and enforce.
A right that arises automatically in the UK is the right to prevent others from reproducing an original product design. That is called unregistered design right which essentially protects the shape or configuration of an article. It can last up to 10 years from the end of the year it is made available to the public though in the last 5 years anybody including an infringer can apply for a licence to make and distribute it as of right.
Unregistered design right is not to be confused with registered designs or unregistered Community designs which protect the appearance of products. Designs that are new and have individual character can be registered at the Intellectual Property Office for five renewable terms of 5 years each. Registration confers a monopoly of the manufacture, importation, stocking, marketing or sale of products that incorporate the design. Designs that could have been registered with the Intellectual Property Office as registered designs are protected from copying for up to 3 years throughout the EU and the UK for the transitional period as unregistered Community designs.
Software which could include programs for 3D printers and other digital fabrication technologies are literary works which may be protected from copying by copyright in the UK and most other countries for the life of the author plus 70 years. The right arises automatically as soon as the work is written down or otherwise recorded. Copyright cannot subsist in ideas as such. Only in the expression of ideas.
If anybody wants to learn more, I shall discuss these topics in a free webinar for makers on Wednesday 15 April 2020 at 17:30. If you want to sign up, please register here.