Interior Design Copyright: Protecting your creative ideas from design theft

Be it a business model or a creative idea – when you are the creator of a commercial idea, business model or a design for commercial use and competitors steal it, there is nothing more frustrating. From your vision, your toil and your creativity – what can be done to protect the simple ‘click and paste’ from occurring? Surely it should be illegal?

The Intellectual Property Office protects a function of how a product is made (patent) or a logo or business name (trademark) to prevent confusion and protect methods and processes, but there is no such protection for an idea, not even if it is a commercial idea. And designers and entrepreneurs quite literally sell ideas!

The only difference that does help to promote you for your idea that may convert to income, is when your idea is duplicated sufficiently enough it becomes a trend or a fashion which can help you gain recognition which in turn translates to enhance your fee rate.

Manufacturers are fortunate in that a product can be protected, yet appearances can still be duplicated ‘in the style of’. The ’lookalike’ cheaper version however, will not be manufactured to the same quality or function; it will just have the same visual appearance similarities.

For interior designers, being copied is the most frustrating situation because they sell their ideas for a living. To protect designs before presenting them to a potential client, the Society of British and International Interior Design (SBID) recommends that prior to the presentation of a design concept or design idea to a potential client, the entire step-by-step process is sent to an independent third-party such as a solicitor, so it is dated and time stamped. Thereafter any duplication by other designers who may, even unwittingly, be presented with ‘sections’ of designs from earlier presentations, or procure a collage of ‘stolen’ ideas that were neither paid for nor approved by the original designer, can be identified. It is clearly theft. Sometimes potential clients are unaware of the work and research that goes into a presentation, design or business idea. For the designer to see their rejected design completed a few years later, it seems ‘too long ago’, ‘too vague’ and quite frankly, too expensive to address. Because this theft is not addressed so regularly it has become ‘de-rigor’.

The same can happen with a business model, even the governments Intellectual Property Office model is copied by private limited companies to the extent that they have warnings advertised on their website pages and correspondence. They name the culprits. The SBID business model has been duplicated by two competitors for well over a decade and as annoying as it is, the duplication is not unlawful – but it is unethical.  Ironically even the SBID Code of Ethics has been copied!

As an example of how competitors copy, you can see the extensive list of downloads by the British Institute of Interior Design from the SBID website, here. The time-stamped dates of these downloads and the duplication of initiatives adopted on the BIID website days (and sometimes just hours after downloading) is evidence of duplication of our business model. It is very frustrating for SBID. So, we hold a date-stamped diary and from time to time, write to bring it to the attention of both competitors that we are aware of their unethical misconduct. They obviously ignore our letters, but we have created an audit trail of impropriety and unethical conduct.

In conclusion, I would recommend exposing misconduct as the only lawful solution. By displaying your design and the date it was presented to the destination that used it, alongside the date of the refurbishment or uploaded content so that the public can make their own ethical decisions on who to do business with. The power of platforms such as Trust Pilot has forced firms to respond correctly to consumers. Let us start a positive trend in ethics and performance to protect interior designers core product – their ideas.