I retired in April 2013 after 25 years as a librarian at the British Library specialising in inventions. This included running numerous workshops; writing books on inventions and a work blog; carrying out searches for clients; and one-to-one meetings with inventors. [more]


8 January 2014

The British registered design database: a critique

Registered designs (called design patents in the USA) can be a significant part of an innovator's arsenal if the looks, rather than the function, of an article is important. This post is an assessment of the free UK official online registered designs database.

It is not explained how far back the database goes, but there is certainly material as far back as 1984, and maximum protection is 25 years. Hence all currently protected designs ought to be on it. In 2012, 5,144 designs were registered, of which 3,797 were of UK origin. The numbers were about double that in 2002, when half were of foreign origin, but the EU designs at OHIM has had a big impact since then, as it offers an attractive alternative to using a national office.

Searches can be carried out by design number, by proprietor name; by classification; or by a combination of the last two.

Searching by number is easy (if you know it), as each seven digit number is unique (and none in the database have fewer digits). At present designs are in a 4 million range.

The results are 32 images appearing in a tile like pattern which is very useful for checking for similar images. This can be altered so that display is of up to 132 images. The US Patent Office's examiners uses this as a convenient way to scan for prior art. The UK gave up checking for novelty some years ago.

More recent registrations are usually photographs, often coloured, but earlier designs are often line drawings and are difficult to see on the screen. The design number and the first letters of the proprietor are also given. Here are examples.

Clicking on the image leads through to the results. See for example UK Design 3019248. I tried copying the data and sticking it into this post, but that was a failure.

The format is awkward to use, to put it mildly. Clicking on boxes opens data or images. It needs a complete overhaul to meet modern expectations, such as easy printing or downloading. Anyone needing to read or print off the full data should access the "View full Bibliography" page at top right. Fees are due every 5 years to keep the design in force, and data on payments plus address details are given. That format can indeed be printed, buit it lacks any image.

For images, "Best View" at top left is the representative image selected for the results list. The "Formal Rep" pages are the pages showing the design as sent in. Anyone wanting to print them has to save each page and print them individually, and had better keep good records, as none of the pages state that they are British registered designs. The number is stamped or written on the Formal Rep pages, admittedly, but a novice could easily think that that was a patent number as that's it: a number, nothing else. I'd like to see at least e.g. "UK registered design xxxxxxx" stamped on each page, but preferably the presence of a formal front page containing data and a main image, or even everything incorporated in one document as a PDF, such as US Design 696744.

Subject searching is not possible by the title of the design (why not ?) but only by clicking open and selecting classes in an enhanced version of the Locarno classification. The enhancements is the best part of the database. Locarno provides classes such as 14/02 (data processing equipment and peripherals) or 21/01 (games and toys). These are big classes, so the ability to add a third level is very useful. Hence 14/02 is subdivided into 15 classes, such as 14/02/02, input devices. Hence 21/01 is subdivided into about 100 classes, such as 21/01/04B, flat game boards for football and cricket.

However, many of these third level classes are described in such detail that the full title runs off the screen (21/01 has many examples). They are unusable since what they represent cannot be identified.

Turning to searching by name, individuals can only be searched by the surname. Knowing the first name is no use at all. You can combine a name search with a class search, but only down to e.g. 25/1 or 25/2 level, not just 25 level. Often you only need the approximate class area to reduce the results found.

In conclusion, the database is valuable but I would like to see some substantial changes to make it even better. These are:

(1) Providing "UK registered design xxxxxx" data stamped on the drawings.
(2) Changing the format of the individual results to ease printing and downloading.
(3) Enabling searching by title
(4) Enabling the full titles of all third level classes to be viewed
(5) Enabling combined proprietor and class searches to be down to e.g. Class 22 and not 22/01 level

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