Design right offers automatic protection for the shape and configuration of articles – or article parts – in the UK for a maximum of 15 years. An EU-wide scheme also protects the shape, pattern, configuration and ornamentation of an object for a maximum of three years. Registering your design provides added protection.

What is design right?

Design right offers automatic protection for the shape of a three dimensional design, and is subsisted only if a design is recorded on paper or if an object is made according to the design. It doesn’t subsist in designs made before the introduction of design right legislation in 1988. Rules vary depending on the designer’s citizenship and the place of the designing. Countries in which design right subsists include the UK, the European Economic Area and British overseas territories although a professional should be consulted for individual cases.

What are the benefits of design right?

Design right is intended to prevent three dimensional designs from being copied and exploited by third parties. It can form an essential form of intellectual property protection for a company to protect its most valuable assets. The protection, whilst basic, offers protection that can help a company retain its competitive advantage when threatened.

Limitations of design right

Whilst the protection conferred by design right is useful it is often insufficient for many companies. It does not normally allow you to prevent others from producing similar articles through their own creative endeavour, unlike many other forms of intellectual property protection such as patents. It also doesn’t protect surface ornamentation of an existing article. Although design right lasts for 15 years (10 from when the articles are first marketed and up to 15 from the creation of the design), you are required to agree to licensing terms with third parties in the final five years. The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) will act as an independent arbiter if terms cannot be formulated.

Registered and community-registered design

Design right does not give exclusive protection, making it hard for companies to use it to protect their intellectual property. For this firms should consider a registered design, which provides monopoly rights for the appearance of a product, resulting from a range of metrics including lines, contours and shape as well as materials and ornamentation. Examples of designs that could be covered include a car tyre or a jug handle. Registered designs also cover two-dimensional articles. Registered Community designs (RCD) are also valid throughout the European Union.

Limitations of design registration

Design registration does not cover the way a product works. There are also limitations on protecting the interior of a product. If you need to protect a product in greater depth a patent may be a better bet – please read our guide to patents for more information. Design registration is also territorial which limits your ability to protect your devices overseas. UK registrations last for five years but can be renewed every five years, up to a maximum of 25 years.

How to register a design

Appropriate details and documentation must be sent to the Intellectual Property Office. Please view their website for more information on how to register and protect your design.

Sources of further information

If you’re looking to register a design or would like more information, please contact a patent attorney or trade mark attorney who specialise in this area. They are regulated by the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys (CIPA) and the Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys (ITMA) respectively.