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ACID: Anti Copying In Design

Anti Copying In Design (“ACID”) is a trade organisation set up by designers for designers and manufacturers, to help them protect their intellectual property.

We spoke to Dids Macdonald, CEO of ACID, to find out how fashion designers can benefit from the work that they do.

Tell us about the work that ACID does

ACID has over 1,000 member companies who individually also employ thousands of designers in 25 different sectors.

We have a lobbying and campaigning arm which raises awareness about design’s significance to the UK economy, not only for its members but for designers in general. ACID also belongs to the Alliance for Intellectual Property, and designers were the biggest contributor to its pre-election manifesto driven by ACID. Research told us that Intellectual Property (IP) is very important to their growth, developments in technology offer significant growth opportunities, and that a stable legal framework is important to their business.

However, the research indicated that:

  • Government has not been very effective in making the UK an attractive location to base a business which relies on IP for its commercial success.
  • Public enforcement bodies are not very effective in policing IP crime.
  • Current deterrents against IP infringement are not very effective.
    The biggest threats facing these businesses were seen as piracy, copying, counterfeiting and the weakening of IP rights.
  • In October 2014 the IP Act was passed, a result of a 15-year long campaign spearheaded by ACID to criminalise the intentional infringement of a registered design.

What are ACID’s aims?

Our main objectives are:

  • Education and Awareness – becoming ‘IP savvy’.
  • Prevention – having a proactive IP strategy to achieve growth through innovation.
  • Deterrence – use of the ACID brand to communicate a zero tolerance of IP theft and support.

Support comes in many ways: access to IP experts for free initial advice on contentious and non-contentious matters, IP workshops, events, support at exhibitions and ongoing articles, tips and advice via social media and our website.

How do you help fashion designers, specifically?

Fashion designers can upload their designs to our Design Databank (DDB) online through the website. The DDB supports protection by providing independent evidence of the date upon which the designs are received. We have generic agreements which can be tailored to suit the needs of designers for licensing, collaboration, confidentiality etc. We hold sector-specific forums and events. Fashion issues are covered in our newsletter and through social media to keep designers up-to-date with news in their industry sector.

What is the Design Databank?

The ACID Design Databank service offers ACID members access to a system where members can lodge documents and images of their 2D or 3D designs, if they are relying on unregistered design rights (UDR), copyright or as an added safeguard for registered designs. It is underpinned by the strong ACID brand of deterrence.

Each year approximately 25,000 designs are lodged on ACID’s Design Databank. This does not add to Unregistered Design Rights (UDR) but provides reliable third party independent evidence of date of receipt by ACID i.e. an audit trail.

Design files are held on our secure system and remain unseen by anyone, unless required as evidence to substantiate design ownership. The majority of settlements on behalf of ACID members have been based on unregistered design rights. Enforcement of UDR infringement is only as good as the evidence you can provide to substantiate ownership. UDR only protects the shape or configuration of a 3D product. The IPO explains the differences between registered and unregistered design right further here.

What are the key things that a fashion designer must do or know about in order to protect?

Protect it, or forget it. Design, that is!


Only good design gets copied, so many designers may run the risk of their IP being infringed. Since the IP Act became law on 1 October 2014, if you have registered your designs there are tougher penalties if they are intentionally copied.

The idea behind the IP Act was to simplify and strengthen design protection for the UK’s hugely important design sector. It will also send a clear deterrent message to copyists.

Design theft happened to me. Badly. In the mid-1980s, a colleague and I created Holbein, a company producing hand-painted decorative accessories for top interior designers. The business was a great success. But it came with a huge problem: theft. Every time we launched a new design, it was knocked off by larger companies without any hope of redress.

Like the vast majority of Britain’s 350,000 design companies, we were a tiny outfit. We weren’t in a position to take on the unscrupulous thieves and copycats. We had no idea where to start.

So I came up with another idea: to create a plan to help David fight Goliath. Today ACID represents thousands of individual designers and companies. We’re here to help the good guys defeat the bad and also promote design originality as a real route to growth: for the creators, not design thieves! We also shout loudly about copying cases, “Name and Educate!”

In May, our 15-year case study campaign helped to influence government in a landmark Act of Parliament. It makes intentional copying of a registered design a criminal offence punishable by prison. But there’s still a lot more to do to keep the UK army of 350,000 designers fully protected. The majority of designers rely on unregistered rights and design law is still complex.

ACID is membership-based and the fee is determined by annual turnover; if a fashion designer is unsure of what that will be, what should they do?

We support young and new designers with a very low entry level. Membership fees are based on what a designer earned in the previous financial year. For start-ups or designers with low turnover, they will start in the lowest category. If they are successful and their turnover improves they will rise up through the categories.

What challenges do you face?

Our biggest challenges are:

  • Larger companies whose deliberate strategy is often to take the fast track to market through copying. Many of them would be horrified to steal a watch or wallet, but they still think it is fair game to steal ideas.
  • The culture that it is okay to steal and free-ride on another creativity.
  • Lack of a real deterrent factor in UK law.
  • Consumer willingness to buy fakes.
  • Lack of IP knowledge by creators and understanding the value they create with tradable IP.

Give us an example of how ACID helped a fashion professional

Rachael Taylor is an ACID member and she had a copying issue with Marks & Spencer, which began to turn into a protracted legal exchange driven by M&S to which Rachael could not afford to respond. So we started a campaign ‘Commission it, Don’t Copy it’.

(N.B. Marks and Spencer eventually settled with Rachael Taylor out of court.)

Image credit: ACID