4 April 2017

Singapore changes rules for design protection

The Singapore Ministry of Law (MinLaw) has tabled the Registered Designs (Amendment) Bill for first reading in Parliament. The proposed legislative changes will update Singapore’s design protection regime to take into account latest trends in design and technology. It will support the growth of the design industry by making it easier for designers to protect their creative works.

The bill implements the recommendations from the review of Singapore’s registered designs regime conducted by MinLaw and the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS). Key features of the Registered Designs (Amendment) Bill include:

(i) Broaden the scope of registrable designs to include:

 Virtual designs of non-physical products that can be projected onto any surface and have useful functions, for example a light-projected keyboard which works like a physical keyboard.

 Colours as a design feature. For example, a new vacuum cleaner shape together with the yellow and black colours of the vacuum cleaner's body can be registered.

In addition, the amendments will clarify that the designs of artisanal or handcrafted items, such as handmade jewellery, can be registered.

(ii) Allow the designer of a commissioned design, rather than the commissioning party, to own the design by default

Currently, where a designer is commissioned to create a design, the commissioning party is the owner of the design. The amendments will instead give the design ownership to the creator by default. This is to highlight the importance of design creation and the valuable contribution of designers. Both parties would still be free to contract otherwise.

(iii) Broaden and lengthen the grace period provision

Currently, a design cannot be validly registered if it has been publicly disclosed before the application date. However, narrow exceptions are provided–a design can be validly registered if the disclosure took plac in very limited circumstances (for example, when the disclosure was in breach of confidence), and the application for design protection was made within six months of the disclosure.

The amendments will broaden the circumstances covered to any disclosure made by the designer, and lengthen the grace period to 12 months. This will enable designers to still obtain design protection if their works were disclosed inadvertently or out of necessity, and is in line with modern business realities where such disclosures could be necessary, and can take place in a wide range of situations.

Singapore provides for design protection under the Registered Designs Act, which was enacted in 2000.  A review of the registered designs regime was conducted from May 2014 to March 2016. The objectives of the review were to support modern business practices while continuing to balance the interests of design creators/owners and users, provide business certainty and ensure that Singapore’s design protection regime is cost-effective. The review included two rounds of public consultation from May to June 2014, and from October to December 2015 respectively. Focus group discussions and one-to-one consultations were also held, including with industry and design associations, businesses, intellectual property practitioners, and academics.