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Design Rights

Design rights protect the appearance of a unique product. Our team of IP attorneys can help you identify and ensure protection for the designs in your business.


Our Partner Hugh Dunlop explains here what design rights are and how they can be used to maximum commercial effect.




What are design rights?


Design rights protect the appearance of a product or its packaging. This protection is distinct from patent protection, which protects the functioning of a product, and trade mark protection, which protects a company's brand selling a product.


The following is a non-exhaustive list of aspects of a product that can be protected by design rights:

  • Lines
  • Contours
  • Colours
  • Shape
  • Texture
  • Materials
  • Ornamentation


Registering a design right


The following must be fulfilled in order to obtain design right protection:


  • The design must be new - although a 12 month grace period in which a product can be tested in the market is permitted. It is recommended, however, to register your design as soon as possible to avoid the risk that a competitor registers a similar design before you do.


  • The design must possess distinctive individual character in comparison to the designs which have previously been registered or used.


Parts of a product that cannot be protected include the function of the product and parts which are not visible during normal use of the product.


Unregistered design rights


It is not necessary to register design rights in order to enforce them if someone infringes your work. UK and European unregistered design rights arise automatically in the jurisdiction that the product is first disclosed to the public. They are intended for short-lived products and, accordingly, provide protection for relatively short period of time (3 years from first disclosure for a European unregistered design, typically 10 years from first disclosure for a UK unregistered design). 


However, having a registered design gives you a significant advantage when enforcing your rights. If someone infringes your unregistered design right, you would need to prove that you previously owned the design and that it has been copied. This additional burden of proof can result in more complex and expensive legal procedings than if the design had been registered.


Advantages of design right protection


Registering a design is quick and cheap to do and ensures that any legal challenge to your design is easy and quick to defend in court.


Having a registered design right also means that your rights can be easily enforced by customs officers, bailiffs or other authorities.


By registering a design, you are afforded full protection for up to 25 years. This is presents an advantage when compared with just 10 years of protection for an unregistered design in the UK and 3 years in the European Union.


Specialist Design Attorney support


Obtaining the advice of a design attorney in the UK or EU will ensure your design's specifications are thoroughly and correctly expressed in the registration. 


By engaging a design attorney, you will also be sure that your registration does not risk infringing on an existing design. Our attorneys can perform searches to check for similar designs and provide advice in case someone attempts to register a design that could infringe your design right.


Our specialist IP attorneys are registered patent and trade mark attorneys as well as registered design attorneys. This means they can ensure your registered designs are fully integrated into your IP strategy to provide the best protection for your ideas.


For more on our design registration services, please follow the link: Design Registration & Protection


Do you want a registered design?


If you think your business could benefit from a registered design, please get in touch with our attorneys for more information. We have extensive experience working with SMEs, start-ups and individual inventors who have the most to gain from these assessments.


Our attorneys have industry expertise across all technology areas and commercial fields.


We look forward to hearing from you: Contact us 

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