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Brussels, 12th December 2001

Commission welcomes adoption of Regulation on Community designs

The European Commission has welcomed the adoption by the EU's Council of Ministers on 12th December of a Regulation introducing a single Community system for the protection of designs. The Regulation sets up a simple and inexpensive procedure for registering designs with the European Union's Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market in Alicante. Unregistered designs will also be protected. Companies will still be able to choose to register designs under national law, as national design protection, as harmonised by the design protection Directive (98/71/EC),will continue to exist in parallel with Community design protection.

Internal Market Commissioner Frits Bolkestein said "This Regulation will foster creativity and innovation by making it easier for businesses and individuals who come up with new designs to protect them throughout the Internal Market with a single application. The Regulation will also help fight counterfeiting and piracy.

The Regulation provides for two types of design protection, directly applicable in each Member State: the "Registered Community Design" and the "Unregistered Community Design". In both cases, to be eligible for protection, designs must be new and must have an individual character (in other words it must be apparent to the public that they are different from products which existed previously.)

Under the Registered Community Design system, holders of eligible designs can make use of a simple, one-off and inexpensive procedure to register them with the Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market (the Office), based in Alicante, Spain. They will then be granted exclusive rights to use the design concerned and to prevent any third party from using it anywhere within the European Union for up to 25 years.

Designs meeting the Regulation's requirements can also benefit from protection even without prior registration with the Office (Unregistered Community Designs). This protection will be applicable from the date of disclosure of designs to the public within the European Union. That disclosure may occur through designs going on sale or through prior marketing or publicity. The relevant designs will be protected for three years.

The only significant difference in the level of protection afforded will be that a Registered Community Design will be protected against both deliberate copying and the independent development of a similar design. An unregistered design will be protected only against deliberate copying.

It will be possible to register Community Designs at the Office from 2003. The Commission, in co-operation with the Office, has prepared a set of legal and administrative tools necessary for the registration of Community designs that will be discussed with the Member States from January next year. The Commission will also adopt next year a Regulation fixing the fees payable to the Office for the registration of Community Designs.

The rules concerning Unregistered Community Designs do not need any further implementation. This form of protection will therefore come into existence two months after publication of the Regulation in the Official Journal, expected early next year.

Since 1993, when it brought forward its first proposal on the protection of designs, the Commission has viewed as a high priority the adoption of EU legislation to reduce legal obstacles to the circulation of design goods within the Internal Market and to ensure fair competition in this respect.

The first step was achieved in 1998, with the adoption of Directive 98/71/EC harmonising the main rules governing designs registered in the Member States. However, in the absence of the Regulation just adopted, designs have had to be registered separately in every individual Member State where protection was sought. This means there has continued to be a potential obstacle to the free movement of those products which incorporate designs which are the subject of national rights held in different countries by different entities.

Component parts of complex products upon whose appearance the protected design is dependent (such as visible car spare parts) will not be protected under the Community Design system as their protection is not foreseen by Directive 98/71. Other component parts will nevertheless find protection under the terms of the Regulation. The Commission intends to make parallel proposals to amend the spare parts provisions of both the Directive and the Regulation, in 2004.

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