27 January 2021

Trending topics of 2020: Face masks and design protection

In this series, our IP experts will reflect on some of Google’s top trending topics throughout the unprecedented year of 2020. In our second article, associate Max Thoma considers the small (but mighty) face mask, and how its design might be protected under registered design law.  

2020 was notable for many reasons, including the sudden appearance in the Western world of a new consumer article that almost everyone felt a need to acquire – the ubiquitous face mask. From the humble blue disposable medical mask, to the lovingly homemade colourful mask, to the high-end designer models, face masks were everywhere in 2020 and are likely to stay ever-present in our pockets, in our bags and (of course) on our faces, until deep into 2021 at least.

Predictably, the emergence of this new category of products saw designers seeking to impart their own spin on the face mask and file registered designs to protect their new creations. The UK design register shows numerous designs for face masks, together with packaging for such face masks. There are also several registered designs for protective wallets and bags for face masks, along with more exotic items such as combined t-shirts and masks – might such products be a growth area in 2021? Whatever the product, designers should make sure that appropriate registered design protection is sought based on carefully prepared drawings which clearly identify the key features for protection (and, ideally, which ‘disclaim’ features of lower importance).

2020 was also notable in registered design terms for being the final year during which EU registered designs covered the UK. The Brexit transition period expired at the end of December 2020, so it is now necessary for applicants to seek design protection in both the EU and UK separately. Existing EU registered designs were automatically ‘cloned’ in corresponding UK designs upon the expiry of the transition period, so designers with already registered designs should not have lost any rights. Although the need to file registered design applications in both the EU and UK is burdensome, the UK design system is fortunately substantively similar to the EU system and involves very low official fees, meaning that new combined UK and EU design applications involve only a small increase in cost and complexity as compared to filing only a EU registered design application (as most applicants did prior to Brexit).

Whether your new design relates to a face mask or something else entirely, you register it in both the UK and EU separately to ensure its protection. Visit our Brexit page for more information.

Other articles in this 2020 trending topics series include: ‘Tiger King – Murder, mayhem, mullets… and trade mark law‘ and ‘COVID-19 vaccinations‘.

Max Thoma