CIPA has warned against any such criminalisation. Vicki Salmon, who is chair of the CIPA Litigation Committee, sent in this comment. The IPKat is happy to post the remarks as a follow-on from the original report, which broaden the debate, and are too long for a simple comment. Over to Vicki:
Even if it is right that there should be a criminal offence connected with registered design infringement, there is serious concern as to what activities should be so heinous as to be made crimes. I feel we are in danger of making a copying a criminal offence, when that is currently not even a civil tort.
One of the issues of concern is what is the activity which is to be criminalised? The wording of the Bill is “A person commits an offence if, in the course of business, the person copies a registered design so as to make a product exactly or substantially to that design, and…….” I have two problems with this test. First that there is no requirement in this section for the copy to be an infringement and second that registered designs are unexamined and so there is no requirement for there to be any originality in the design being copied. If the wording of the offence was limited to a slavish copy or a blatant or deliberate copy, then I might not feel so concerned. But it is not. The wording that will be put to the jury is "copy" and the resultant product is not just the slavish copy, it is also a product which is substantially to the design.
The Apple v Samsung design litigation [see Katposts here, here and here] shows that the scope of a registered design has to be considered in the context of the existing art and that while on first sight one might be tempted to consider Samsung's tablet as being substantially to Apple's registered design, the civil courts found no infringement. Do we want substantial commercial disputes as to who can compete with whom, in an important market place, to take place in the criminal courts? Should important commercial companies looking to compete in a market place have to fear a private prosecution from a commercial competitor and with it the fear of conviction and issues of proceeds of crime?
Also, the test for design infringement is to do with whether the later one produces a “different overall impression” on an “informed user”. Where are the obligations on the prosecution to deal with this?
To non-lawyers, issues as to whether or not there was infringement of a valid right can appear to be mere “technicalities” which should not stop a copyist from being convicted. But these “technicalities” are fundamental to defining what we protect and what we are free to copy.
The criminal law is there to put people in prison. It is not there merely to act as a deterrent. So it is really important that the extent of a criminal offence is properly drafted towards the particular offending behaviour and not just laid out in broad terms for fear of allowing copyists too much wriggle room to get out of the offence. The wider implications of potentially being caught up in a criminal prosecution is serious. It is not an answer for ACID to say that ordinary businesses won’t be prosecuted. If they won’t be prosecuted, then they should not have to fear that they might have committed an offence.
CIPA is continuing to lobby on this issue. I would welcome further thoughts on the issues, the wording, etc. I would particularly welcome examples of allegations of infringement of registered designs which turned out to be unfounded, especially if that could be accompanied with any views as to whether the initial case review might have led to a criminal case being started.