In the UK there is an automatic protection for designs, known as "design right". This is generally available only to designs created by European Union citizens. It gives a period of protection of ten years from first marketing, but with any person being entitled to take a licence with a reasonable royalty in the last five years.
UK design right protects the shape or configuration of the whole or part of an article. It does not protect surface decoration. It also does not protect features of an article which have to match or fit another article. To benefit from design right a design has to be original, that is, not commonplace in the design field in question at the time of its creation.
Under European Union law, there is another form of automatic design protection, known as unregistered Community Design. This has a relatively short period of protection which is three years from the date on which the design was first made available to the public within the EU.
To benefit from unregistered Community Design protection a design must be novel and possess individual character. Features of the appearance of a product which are solely dictated by its technical function are not protected, nor are features which are necessary for a product to fit another product.
Both forms of unregistered design protection require proof of ownership and copying if they are to be enforced.
For more detailed information please refer to our briefing notes.