On a surf through the UK IPO site I noticed that they are closing their search and advisory services for both trade marks and for designs. See the following note on their site:
"This notice is to advise you that the Trade Marks Search and Advice service provided by the UK-Intellectual Property Office will no longer be available after 12 December 2008. The reason for this is that demand for this service has declined over a period of time and the cost of its provision has become unsustainable.
Any requests for this service received by 12 December will be processed as normal. This does not affect any part of the UK trade marks application process.
We do, of course, remain committed to providing information to customers before they make a decision on whether to make an application to register a trade mark. Our Central Enquiry Unit staff will be happy to provide general guidance on registrability and information can also be found on our website which includes a free search facility. You may also like to know that we are currently looking at providing a new pre-application service offering a number of options to customers, possibly from late 2009, and will post any further information on our web site in due course."There is a similar notice for designs. For more details see the UK IPO site here.
It seems that this is a cost cutting measure for the UK IPO, which will be positively received if the savings are past on either in terms of lower fees (not likely) or improved service in other aspects of the office's work. Presumably it will be welcomed by firms offering their own searches.