Key point: A design relates to the elements of a manufactured article which give the article a particular visual appearance, such as its contours or shape.  At present, in the UK, nationally, and in the EU as a whole, protection is available by registering a design and in some cases for unregistered designs too.

Unregistered Design Rights

Key point: A right to prevent reproduction of an original design which arises automatically and which lasts for a maximum of 15 years in the UK.

UK unregistered design right comes into existence when an original design is recorded in a design document or an article is made to the design. EU-wide community unregistered design right comes into existence when the design relating to a product is first made available to the public, whether through publication of a design document or the product itself. A design document can be, for example, a photograph, drawing, or written or oral description of the design. In both cases, the protection is limited to prevention of copying of the design, and will not give the right to prevent independent production of an identical or similar design. Community unregistered design right lasts for three years from the date the design is made available to the public, whilst UK unregistered design right lasts for up to 15 years (10 years in most cases) with licences available as of right to others during the final 5 years of protection.

Registered Designs

Key point: A 25 year monopoly in a new design applied to a manufactured article.

For more effective protection, a design can be registered and this will result in the proprietor of the registered design being entitled to a strict legal monopoly in the design for a period of 25 years subject to the payment of renewal fees every 5 years. Such registration is available for the UK alone, or in respect of the entire EU via a registered community design. Similar registration is also available in most other countries around the world.

There are a number of exclusions to both unregistered design right and registered design protection. UK unregistered design right does not cover any aspect of surface decoration (2D features), but only the shape and configuration of the article (3D features). Community unregistered design right, as well as both UK & Community registered design rights, will protect both 3-D and 2-D features including colour, pattern and ornament.

Conversely, Community unregistered design right, and both UK & Community registered design rights will not protect any feature whose appearance is dictated solely by function. This exclusion does not apply to UK unregistered design right.

The other main exclusions from UK unregistered design right protection are the so-called ‘must fit’ (features which enable the article to be connected to another article with which it interrelates) and ‘must match’ (features which are dependent upon the appearance of another article of which the design article is intended to be an integral part) exclusions. These exclusions are intended to allow third parties to manufacture spare parts for articles without infringement. The ‘must match’ exclusion also applies to Community unregistered design rights and both UK & Community registered design rights. (There is no equivalent to the ‘must fit’ exclusion, since these features, being dictated solely by function, are not protected by these rights in any case).

To find out more about designs, please click here to request a copy of our Designs leaflet.

Semiconductor Topography Rights

Key point: Unregistered design right in a semiconductor topography.

UK unregistered design right subsists in semiconductor topographies, i.e. a fixed pattern of conductor or semiconductor material affixed to one layer of a multilayer semiconductor product. The subsistence and duration of design right in a semiconductor topography are as set out in respect of unregistered design right.


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