Registered Design Right:
Protects the lines, contours, colours, shape,
texture and materials of a product or its ornamentation by
registering the design with the Patent Office. This usually applies
to aesthetic objects.
Unregistered Design Right:
Design right gives you free automatic protection
for the internal or external shape or configuration of an original
design. Design right allows you to stop anyone from copying the
shape or configuration of the product, but does not give you
protection for any of the 2-dimensional aspects, for example
A design in the context of intellectual property (IP) refers to
the appearance of the whole, or part, of a product resulting from
the features of lines, contours, shape, texture or materials of the
product or its ornamentation. This definition is very broad
and can include the appearance of products, logos, graphic symbols,
screen displays, typefaces and packaging. There are three
prospective types of intellectual property protection for designs
in the UK: registered design right, unregistered design right, and
in certain instances copyright.
Registered design right
Registered design right (RDR) protects the shape or
ornamentation of a product, or party of a product. To obtain
a registered design in the UK, a formal application has to be filed
with the Designs Registry (section of the Patent Office). RDR
provides the owner with a time-limited exclusive legal monopoly to
prevent others from making, using, selling, importing and exporting
any product incorporating the design. The right exists
irrespective of whether anyone else independently created the
The application process
A design application consists of an informative description
along with graphic or photographic reproductions of the
design. Details of all the matter for which protection is
sought should be distinguished and a maximum of 7 different views
of the design is permitted. The design application undergoes
a limited examination process at the Patent Office and subsequent
publication and grant in the design registry can occur within weeks
Initial filing of a UK design application generates a priority
date for the design. The owner then has a 6 month period to
file applications abroad claiming the priority date of the original
Community registered design (EU)
The requirements and rights afforded by Community registered
design right are the same as already described for UK registered
designs. The only difference is that Community rights extend
to the whole European Union. One added advantage of this
application route is that multiple design applications can be filed
at the same time. The more applications filed, the cheaper
Duration and costs
Registered design right, both UK and EU, can last for a maximum
duration of 25 years. To reach this maximum duration, renewal
fees must be paid at five-yearly intervals. The costs of
design application depends upon the number of designs being applied
for and the territories in which registration is required. A
single application with a single design will normally cost about
£600. An application with five designs will cost about £1500,
added to this will be renewal fees.
RDR requirements for protection
For RDR to be granted, the design must be:
- New: No identical designs disclosed publicly before
- Individual in character: Overall impression of the design
is different to any other previously disclosed.
- Not excluded: Exclusions include features dictated solely
by their technical function e.g. design of an electric razor head;
and features which have to be in contact with another feature in
order to perform its function.
Unregistered design right
In the UK, unregistered design right (UDR) is an automatically
arising IP right. UDR specifically protects the aspects of
shape or configuration (internal or external) of the whole, or
part, of a marketable product. The rights afforded by
unregistered design right allow the owner to prevent unauthorised
dealings of the design throughout the UK which include: selling,
importing, exporting and possessing infringing articles.
However, these rights do not allow the owner to prevent someone
doing any of these actions if they have independently created the
very same design i.e. not copied it.
Duration of unregistered design right
UDR lasts for a maximum period of 15 years, from the end of the
calendar year in which the design was recorded or an article
made. If the design is commercially marketed within the first
5 years of protection, UDR lasts 10 years from when first sold.
Community unregistered design (EU)
Community unregistered design (UCD) is an automatic right, but
only has a duration of 3 years. The reason for UCD
introduction was to provide conformity within the EU, resulting in
all members states having minimum automatic design
protection. The UK already had these provisions in place
(UDR) and as can be noted the duration of UDR in the UK is much
longer than that for UCD.
Copyright and designs
Design rights exist independently of copyright, however
copyright may still protect the literary aspect of a design i.e.
actual documents detailing the design, as well as any artistic work
incorporated into the design. In this case, copyright would
only prevent someone copying the design document and could not
prevent someone producing an article to that design. Design
right would not be used to prevent the latter.
Governance of design right
In the UK, UDR is governed by the Copyright, Designs and Patent
Act 1988 (CDPA). RDR is governed by the Registered Designs
Act 1949, as amended by the registered Design Regulations 2001.
In the European Community, design rights are governed by EC
Directive 98/71/EC and also EC regulation 6/2002 on Community
The requirement of a design being new for RDR is not absolute,
as in patent law. Disclosure of a design within 12 months
preceding an application will not invalidate the application (this
is known as a grace period). Other countries outside the UK
and EU do not have this grace period, so disclosure before filing
could result in application failure.
UDR requirements for protection
The design has to be:
- Original: Not copied, but created from sufficient skill,
judgement and labour (as copyright).
- Not commonplace: Not similar to any other design.
- Not Excluded: Exclusions include a method or principle of
construction; features which have to be in contact with another
feature in order to perform its function; and the surface
decoration of a product.
Design right factors to be considered
- The definition of a design is very broad allowing a wide
variety of different types of designs to be registered.
- Products with distinctive appearance are ideal for design right
- Design right protects appearance rather than the way something
works, such as functional or technical characteristics.
- Copyright is not available for the majority of designs, unless
there is a literary or artistic quality to the design.
- Registered designs provide a time-limited exclusive legal
monopoly, allowing the prevention of other people from exploiting
an identical or similar product.