If you’ve already read our introductory guide to intellectual property, you’ll know that design rights protect others from copying how your products look, including their shape, configuration, or decoration. (How something works, e.g. technically or mechanically, may be something eligible for patent protection)
You’ll also know that there are two types of design rights: registered ones and unregistered ones.
Both of these rights are addressed in this guide.
Here, we’ll take a look at them more closely, before addressing exactly how you can register and/or optimise their benefits for your business (which could extend to licensing, selling or even mortgaging those rights).
Do design rights need to be registered?
Not necessarily. Design rights can be registered or unregistered, but the level of protection varies depending on what type you have.
A registered design right:
• Protects the aesthetics (how it looks, it’s physical shape, its configuration, and its decoration) of both two-dimensional and three-dimensional designs.
• Gives a higher amount of protection than an unregistered design
• Requires the original designer to apply for registration and pay a fee to the Intellectual Property Office
• Lasts for 5 years, and can be renewed for up to 25 years
• Provides an easy way for the design to be sold and licensed by the owner
• Offers a simpler process of taking action against infringement than an unregistered design right
An unregistered design right:
• Protects the shape and configuration of three-dimensional designs
• Gives a lower amount of protection than a registered design
• Is automatically granted to the original designer at no fee
• Lasts for 10 years from the end of the year in which the product was first sold (or, in the case of no sales within the first 5 years, they last for 15 years from the end of the year in which it was designed)
• Is less simple for the owner to sell and license than a registered design right
• Requires more responsibility and effort in taking action against infringement, compared to a registered design right
What are the rules around what you can and can’t protect?
Unregistered design rights can automatically protect any three-dimensional design that is:
• Original (novel) in its shape and configuration and
• A new or uncommon idea
For registered design rights, you can protect any design that is:
• Different to any design that is already in the public domain or the market as a whole
• A design, not an invention (Patent protection is appropriate for inventions)
• Not featuring any protected emblems
Before you apply
1. Check that your design is unique: To prevent wasting time or money, and to reduce the risk of your application not being accepted, check that your design isn’t already registered by someone else. The Intellectual Property Office can search the designs register for you for £24
2. Prepare your illustrations: You’ll need to upload JPEG, GIF or TIFF images of your design when you apply for a registered design right. You can read about the specific requirements of the illustrations here
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