Designs and Design Rights Explained

There are three types of protection that cover designs and design rights in United Kingdom. As a rule, the details will be unregistered, but you can also register design right or protect it with copyright. Design rights vary according to national law. Nonetheless, design right protection for the shape and configuration of objects occurs by automatic process in the UK and in Europe.

WHAT IS A DESIGN? It relates most to the appearance of an object or a product (its arrangement) and in particular the:

  • Colour, shape, and texture.
  • Contours, configuration, and ornamentation.
  • Materials used to produce it.

Note: The product would only qualify as a new design if the overall impression is different from any that already exist.

WHAT IS DESIGN RIGHT? As a rule, it prevents unauthorised copying of an original design. But, there is a duration for unregistered design rights.

By automatic process, design protection lasts for a period of ten (10) years after it was first sold. The duration can extend to fifteen (15) years after original creation (whichever occurs first).

You can choose to register your design to get better protection for it (extra details below). But, it must meet the stringent eligibility criteria to qualify.

Design registration would need to be applied ‘formally’ to protect two-dimensional designs (e.g. graphics, textiles, or wallpaper).

Proving a Design Right

In most cases, it is the creator who would own the design and any rights held in it. An exception may occur if the commission or creation of the work took place as part of employment. In this case, the rights would belong to the employer or the party that commissioned the work.

To claim design right of your work or creation you would need proof of when you created the actual object or the product.

One way to prove design right is to get signed and dated copies of the design drawings or photos. As a rule, they would need to be certified and kept by an intellectual property attorney or a solicitor.

Resolving Design Right Disputes

In some cases, resolution hearings held with the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) may help to solve design right disputes. It would be wise to seek professional advice before taking this kind of legal action.

Note: Copying an unregistered design is the only way it would constitute as an infringement (i.e. not designs created independently). But, any infringement of a design gives you the right to take civil court action.

Giving Away Your Licence of Right

Giving, or selling, the ‘licence of right’ means you are allowing someone else to use your design. You should use Form DRF4 to apply by design right or copyright owner to vary the terms of licence of right.

The ten year duration of design rights in the United Kingdom splits into two separate five year periods. The owner would retain exclusive rights for the first five (5) years. But, other parties can apply for licenses to the design in the last five years.

If this happens, the owner of the design right may claim royalties. It is also worth noting that as a UK designer, you would be able to hold the UK and any EC rights at the same time.

Designs in the European Union

It is possible for ‘unregistered community designs’ in the European Union to protect certain design types as well as some patterns ‘automatically’ against being copied.

But, unregistered design rights lasts for three (3) years within the European Community. It would start from the point that the design is first disclosed or made available to the public in some way.

Note: UK registered designs do not get automatic protection in other countries overseas. Read guidance on protecting your design abroad for further information on safeguarding intellectual property outside the UK.

How to Find Registered Designs

There are several ways to find a registered design in the United Kingdom. The details will be those stored at the Intellectual Property Office (IPO).

As a rule, you will need to know the name of the design owner or the design number to conduct a search. But, you can use Designview on the WIPO and EUIPO websites if you do not know either of them.

The same process works for searches of designs registered in the United Kingdom through the:

  • World Intellectual Property Organization
  • European Union Intellectual Property Office

Checking the Designs Journals

You can check the designs journal to view design information registered from the last 25 years. The details will be those stored with the Intellectual Property Office (IPO).


Register a Design

There are several key steps in understanding how to register a design to stop others from stealing it. Extra details in this section provide further information on:

  • How to prepare your illustrations
  • Steps for registering part of an illustration
  • How to apply online or by post
  • Deferring your registration (up to 12 months)

Note: You would not get full protection of a registered design until the application has been published.

Renewing a Registered Design

You can send in an application to renew your registered design up to six (6) months before the renewal date. Further information in the help guide explains:

  • How to renew a registered design with the Intellectual Property Office
  • How to restore your registered design after the late renewal deadline
  • The current fees for renewing or restoring a registered design

Note: The section also covers the correct steps to update or cancel your registered design at the IPO.

Design Rights UK Explained and Simplified