Design right

There is no registration procedure to obtain design right since it is an automatic right, but it should not be confused with registered designs, which also offer protection for some designs.

Design right protects designs that relate to the 3D contours or shape of a manufactured article which give the article a particular visual appearance.  It does not protect any of the 2D aspects of a design, for example surface decorations. When enforced, design right may be used to stop anyone from copying the shape of that article.

In order for design right to exist, the design must be either recorded on paper as a design document, or an article to that design must be made. A design document is often a drawing, but could also be a photograph, drawing, or even a written or oral description of the design.

As the owner of the design right in a particular design, you have the exclusive right to reproduce that design for commercial reasons either by making articles to the design or by making a design document recording the design so that articles can be made. If anyone else carries out these activities without your permission they may infringe the design right. In much the same way as copyright, to show infringement of a design right you must be able to prove it was copied or that the potential for copying existed. Therefore, design right cannot be used to stop a third party who has devised an identical or closely similar design with no knowledge of your own design.

Ownership of design right differs from that of copyright. In the UK, the designer or his employer is the first owner of any design right in a design, unless the design is commissioned by a third party, in which case it belongs to the commissioner. However, this is not necessarily the case in the rest of Europe or further afield and therefore, it is worthwhile seeking advice on how to establish that you own any design right.

Protection in the UK can last either 10 years after the first marketing of articles that use the design, or 15 years after creation of the design. If first marketing of the articles occurred within 5 years of the creation of the design, then the protection will expire at the end of the 10 years. Protection is also available in the European Union although the term is somewhat shorter, being 3 years from the date the design is made available to the public.

Design right is a form of property and so it can be sold, given away or licensed.

It is possible to register a design. Please see our Comparison of Registered versus Unregistered rights for a list of the advantages and disadvantages of the different types of protection.

If you have a specific design right problem or matter, we would be happy to help.