Original designs for the shapes of three-dimensional products are protected under UK law not by copyright but by design right. Design right doesn’t protect surface decoration, principles of construction, or features necessary for a product to fit to or match another one, for example, some spare parts. Design right comes into existence automatically when a design document or model is created. It lasts until 15 years from the end of the year in which the design was created or 10 years from the end of the year in which the article was first marketed, whichever is shorter. During the last 5 years of protection, other people are allowed to use the design, provided they pay you a reasonable royalty.
Design right is infringed by a person who reproduces the whole of a work or a substantial part of it. But it’s necessary to show that they have actually copied it.
The EU also gives automatic, short-term protection to designs that would qualify for registration, including two-dimensional designs. The protection lasts for 3 years from the date when the design is first made available to the public. The UK gives similar protection but, since 01 January 2021, it only applies if the first public disclosure of the design took place in the UK.
We advise that you maintain good records of when a design was created and when it was first made available to the public.
Unlike copyright or design right, a registered design is a true monopoly: anyone who makes, imports, sells or uses a product with a similar design infringes the registered design, whether they’ve copied the design or created it independently. You also get a registration number that you can put on the product to deter people from copying it.
An application for a UK registered design must be filed at the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO).
A registered Community (or EU) design is effective throughout all member countries of the EU. An application for an EU registered design must be filed at the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO), which also handles EU trade mark applications.
A further option is to apply for an international design registration under a system called the Hague Agreement. If you tell us the countries where you want to protect your design, we can advise which is the best option for you.
The IPO and EUIPO do not carry out a search for similar earlier designs so the registration process is extremely quick: just a few days in the case of a Community (EU) registered design.
The cost of filing a design application depends on how many designs are included in the application.
A UK design application costs £410 for one design or £605 for two designs, then £170 for each additional design up to ten. These figures exclude VAT but include: the official fees; providing advice about the design(s) to be applied for, preparing and filing the application at the IPO; and informing you about the various formal steps such as registration.
We will be happy to provide quotations for Community or international design applications on request.
A design is initially registered for 5 years and can be renewed for further periods of 5 years up to 25 years in total.