• Design protection: protecting design, shape and appearance

Design protection: protecting design, shape and appearance

Businesses seeking IP protection for new products will generally focus first on trademark or patent rights; however, for certain products, design rights can provide a simple and cost-effective means to protect and enforce an innovative shape, appearance or ornamentation. In particular, design protection may be recommended for products that use design to differentiate themselves in their market.

Design protection: what are design rights?

Design rights can protect the shape or appearance of an object, such as an item of clothing, a new mobile phone handset, a new coffee maker or an innovative form of packaging.The right protects the design feature – for example, its shape or appearance – rather than its function. Depending on your product and its target market, design rights may be available; for example, UK and EU design rights. Two types of right can apply: registered and unregistered rights.

An unregistered design right may arise automatically when a work is created and, for certain products – for instance, those with short shelf lives – may provide a sufficient form of design protection. The Unregistered Community Design right, for example, covers a design in the EU for up to three years, and includes protection for the ‘lines, contours, colours, shape and texture and/or materials of the product itself, and/or of its ornamentation’.

However, if you rely on an unregistered right, it’s important to keep good records of the design process – e.g. the date the design was created and the date of first use in marketing – as you will need to be able to prove the originality and ownership of your work if you need to bring an action based on an unregistered right. Furthermore, you can only prevent commercial use of a design if that design is intentionally copied, so it must be proven that the other party knows of (or, on the balance of probabilities, would have known) of the existence of the earlier design.

In contrast, a registered design right can provide a more legally certain tool for design protection and enforcement, and lasts for a considerably longer period of time.

It also offers a greater form of protection as it enables you to prevent a third party from using a design that creates the same overall impression of your design (whether or not they have copied yours), whereas an unregistered design action can only be brought where it can be shown that a third party has copied the design feature (for example, its exact shape or appearance).

Registered UK and EU designs last for (a maximum of) 25 years, provided certain formalities are met. For example, the application to register a design must be made within 12 months of that design first being publicly disclosed, and the design must meet certain requirements for novelty in order to qualify for protection.

Your attorney will be able to advise you as to whether your design is eligible for protection in your chosen country or region. Find out more about registering your designs nationally or internationally.

Design protection: further information

You can find out more about designs and the processes for obtaining, enforcing and exploiting design rights here. Alternatively, contact our customer support team using the contact form at the top right of this page.

  • Designs defined

    What is a design? Protecting models, drawings, and the look and feel of a product.

    Service suitable for : MKB Niet MKB
  • Design registration

    Registration requirements: Novagraaf’s guide to obtaining design protection for product design, patterns and other aesthetic qualities.

    Service suitable for : MKB Niet MKB
  • Extending protection

    Registration requirements: Novagraaf’s guide to obtaining design protection for the Community Design from OHIM and in key territories.

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  • Enforcement

    Enforcement: Novagraaf’s guide to the defence of a registered design in case of infringement or other unauthorised use

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  • Our expertise

    From creative concept to prototype design and market launch, Novagraaf can support you through the entire design life cycle.

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