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Design right protects the shape and/or appearance of something - in both 2D or 3D. It was originally developed as a form of industrial copyright.

The protection it offers is intended to ensure no-one else can make, offer, put on the market, import or export for their commercial gain copies for which you own the design right.

  • The design has to be new with its own characteristics
  • There is 10-year protection in the UK for an unregistered design after it is first sold.
  • A registered design is protected for 25 years.

What does design right protect?

The shape, colours, decoration, materials and configuration are all protected by this right.
A good example of ensuring the configuration is protected is when a product changes shape (e.g. the toys Tranformers are unfolded from one shape into another) as part of its appeal, each stage of the shape change needs to be documented from all sides as part of the application.

What elements of a design can be protected?

You can register a simple graphic design, the shape, a pattern or texture, colour, materials and ornamentation as long as they are all graphically represented. This can include words, designs, letters, numbers as well as packaging. Design right does not protect how something works, and will not cover smells, ideas or concepts.

How to protect unregistered design right

If you are not applying to the Intellectual Property Office to register your design (see below), you need to be able to prove when you created your design. Keep original dated drawings, post a set of these to yourself/your solicitor but keep the envelope unopened, or you can join ACID (Anti Copying in Design) a lobbying organisation that allows members to store their designs in their design library.

Registering your design

You can find all the information about registering your design on the Government website. This will protect you for 25 years but needs renewing each 5 years. You must ensure your design is new, belongs to you, isn’t offensive and - like trademarks - doesn’t include flags or other international symbols. You can search their website to see other already registered designs to ensure you are not infringing someone else’s design right.

The main protagonist of the Tomb Raider games, Lara Croft, is protected by design registration. So if you have characters or landscapes included in your creative work, you may well want to ensure they are similarly protected.

Double protection of design right and trademark

Some companies protect their work through both design right and trademark. A Mars bar for example has IP protected in a number of ways…
- the font type is on the design register together with the packaging colour
- the name and logo is protected by trademark.

If your design right is infringed

Intentional copying of another person or company’s registered design is now a criminal offence. If you think your design rights have been infringed by a third party, you can obtain an injunction (a legal restraining order) to stop the offender selling the goods and apply for compensation, which could include damages (to your reputation and profits), financial reparation and missed royalties, as well as paying for costs. You will need an IP attorney to help with your defence.

Erica Wolfe-Murray

Executive Director / Head of content

Author / Publisher / Innovation driver using clients’ intellectual assets/IP and Founder of Lola Media Ltd