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We must protect our vital design sector from this Brexit threat

3 min read

From fashion to furniture, Britain’s design sector relies on EU protections. Ministers must ensure this multi-billion pound industry is not put at risk, writes Lord Clement-Jones 

It was notable from her speech at the Mansion House earlier this month that the Prime Minister has woken up to the threat to our broadcasters of exit from the EU through loss of country of origin rules – the rules which have enabled the UK to operate as an international broadcasting hub.

The fact is, however, that this is but one of the many severe threats to our creative industries posed by Brexit.

The Prime Minister also needs to recognise the threat posed by Brexit to the design sector, which includes the fashion industry and furniture lighting and furnishings and many other design areas, from the potential loss of European unregistered design rights for United Kingdom-generated designs.

European design laws protect the individual character of a design, in particular as they relate to shape, texture, contours, lines, colour, ornamentation or materials. UK unregistered design right protects only the shape and configuration of a design.

Recently the Law Society made the news when it revealed that London Fashion Week is under serious threat from Brexit. They said it could lose its status as an event where new clothing creations are unveiled because laws that protect European fashion houses from unauthorised copying may no longer apply in London when Britain leaves the EU next year.

Fashion houses that first reveal an unregistered design on the London catwalk would be at risk from copies going on sale in the EU.

In 2016 the value of UK fashion and textile exports stood at £9.1bn. The fashion industry, through the British Fashion Council, has highlighted the serious consequences for British fashion designers if they lose unregistered EU design rights protection in the other 27 member states. Potentially losing the protection currently available under EU law will leave these UK designers in a disadvantageous position versus their EU competitors.

These are typical but high profile examples of how designers across the board may be forced to launch new designs in EU countries after Brexit.

The potential impact to our economy is massive. UK design and design skills in the UK are currently worth a startling £209bn. This is put at risk if legal protection for design IP is weakened.

The reason for this is that copying is endemic not only in the fashion sector but in the lighting, furniture, furnishings, gift and product and many more design sectors, all of which will also be affected by loss of the EU unregistered design right. As the majority in the industry are micro and SME design innovators with less than four employees they are particularly vulnerable to infringement of their designs.

In the Lords this Thursday I will be seeking a firm assurance from the government that it will provide a solution to the potential loss of EU design rights in one of the fastest growing sectors in the economy. I will be calling on ministers to end this major threat to our design sector and introduce legislation which will offer the same EU unregistered IP rights’ protection as they now enjoy in 28 member states.

Unlike some other Brexit conundrums, in this case the solution lies in government’s hands and we and the design industry have every right to expect urgent action.


Lord Clement-Jones is Lib Dem Digital Economy spokesperson. His Oral Question is on Thursday 15th March



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