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Dids Macdonald on IP Protection | ACID

Dids Macdonald, OBE Chief Executive - Anti Copying in Design (ACID), shares an overview of the importance of IP protection, especially in the current market that has seen a burst of diversity and innovation.
The vibrant furniture and interiors industry supports around 340,000 jobs in the UK, and most of its 52,000 companies have had to think on their feet, adapt and learn new ways of nimble thinking to survive in the face of unprecedented commercial challenges. The last few months have been a steep learning curve for us all.

Diversity in manufacturing through innovative redirection of resources is a route that many have taken. Britain’s bedmakers have joined the battle to beat the coronavirus crisis whilst “normal” production is at a standstill by responding, in a constructive way, to produce essential supplies for the NHS, transferring their skills to produce mattresses, foam pads for ventilators, face masks and other medical equipment. 

Companies such as the GNG Group (owners of Komfi brand) have deployed 85 staff split over three shifts to make medical mattresses. Similarly, Milbrook Beds; who, according to the National Bed Federation, had never seen a medical bed, within just 10 days this flexible team had assembled over 1000 of them in support of the NHS as has Breasley, manufacturing vital equipment including hospital mattresses, trolleys and operating table foams. The Vita Group are doing their bit too by manufacturing around 8000 mattresses. 

Another company, Redwood TTM have been working around the clock to manufacture essential medical equipment and mattresses for the NHS and Silentnight have diversified into producing face masks amongst many other stalwart companies in our amazing industry. Hats off to them and others like KI Europe, providing easy access to a wealth of digital resources during the COVID-19 lockdown period to make buying much more accessible. Lectra, too, have risen to the challenge by deploying their staff from its call centres providing guidance to customers on how to reorient production apparatus to manufacture face masks and protective apparel. And South West London interior specialist E & A Wates has swapped furniture restoration for personal protective equipment (PPE) production, yet another good news story.

E & A Wates
E & A Wates


United together, this industry has galvanised into action and reinvented itself to help play their part in this crisis. 

With the current burst of diversity and innovation, ACID has seen its IP Databank inundated with new designs being lodged – maybe lockdown has allowed more time to create and prepare for markets to open? 

So, the need for design protection is critical when we emerge from the current crisis as sadly, there are those who will see the fast track back to market through IP theft. Evidence is key so either registering new designs at the UK intellectual property office or, if relying on unregistered design, keep accurate signed and dated records recording key stages from idea to market reality. 

For companies who find themselves at the wrong end of copying, it is important to have a strategy in place. Evidence of one’s own IP ownership is critical, registered design certificates, trade marks and a design audit trail are all key parts of the evidence required for decisive action. Always, collate evidence of who the copyist is, where they are selling and, if possible, buy an example. Seek immediate advice as to the strength of your case. 

Taking legal action is not about going to Court. Often a strongly worded letter from an IP expert with all the supporting evidence can get a good result, the majority of ACID member cases have not reached a final Court hearing. Mitigating loss early enough and sending a strong message through the media and social media sends a clear anti copying policy. And don’t forget trade secrets, know how – hard to come by - easy to steal. Ensuring that only employees who need to have this information have access enables more security in the hard fought for competitive edge. 

After four years of ACID lobbying Government to ensure that post-Brexit UK designers and manufacturers can still benefit from unregistered design protection (UDR) in EU27, this has now been included in UK/EU negotiations ensuring a level playing field and reciprocity. UDR had not been included in the Withdrawal Bill and losing the stronger EU unregistered right would have been calamitous for UK designers and manufacturers. However, with this comes the caveat that if negotiations fail or there is no deal, this will not happen. Even more important to have a proactive IP strategy to underpin the IP equity in every company in this sector.

Important trade talks are being held at the moment with Australia, Japan and US and ACID is keen to ensure that there is a level playing field in all territories for the protection of the UK’s precious intellectual property. When we emerge, which we will, it must be in an environment where there is a basis of understanding and respect for the IP that major brands in this country own. Brand Britain is known for its design and manufacturing expertise and quality craftsmanship and we must be ready for global opportunities.

The British Furniture Confederation have been proactive in Parliament through the All-Party Parliamentary group for Furniture (APPG) to ensure that the industry’s voice is heard on a variety of issues which will keep this industry in business. As Ian Oscroft, Managing Director said when giving evidence to the APPG on reopening the industry, “We all need to come back together – we need retail shops to open, that will allow manufacturers to open and then the supply chain. It cannot be manufacturers opening if we have not got retail stores open.” See the full report here.

Manufacturers need time to prepare and financial support is critical to avoid a cliff edge ending. Buying British was a mantra articulated as a “must do” for Government and public sector contracts. Let’s all hope that this time next year we will be celebrating an industry that has taken the right action to help it survive!  

And finally, probably one of the most important messages. Times are tough with personal, emotional, health and commercial pressures rarely known before and, inevitably there will be casualties. The Furniture Makers’ Company, the City of London livery company is the charity for the furnishing industry and has increased the package of support available to struggling employees and sole traders who have been financially shaken by the COVID-19 crisis. 

The Charity, which has been supporting the welfare of people in the industry for more than 100 years, has been awarding Personal Support Grants to members of the trade to help mitigate against the loss of earnings people are experiencing as a result of being furloughed, made redundant, unable to work or a diminished order book. Never feel too proud to approach them. Financial support, when a curve ball strikes, is simple and easy to access.

Our current Master, David Woodward, MD of Celtheath is leading a grass roots charge to ask the industry to support his Step2It campaign with the intention of raising £1 for every mile walked – so, come on and get fit, Step2it and galvanise your team to walk, run, swim, ride, row or whatever to ensure that we raise the funds necessary to help those who may hit a curve ball. And lastly, if your company is not a One Step Champion, there is no better time than now!

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