A Registered Design is a monopoly right granted by the government (the Designs Registry is part of the UK Intellectual Property Office).

Assuming the Registration is valid, exclusive use of the design in the UK is provided for up to 25 years – a similar design used by a competitor may infringe regardless of whether the infringer actively copied your design. If protection is required overseas, then corresponding registrations may be obtained based on the UK application.

A “design” is defined in the Registered Design Act 1949 as meaning the appearance of the whole or a part of a product resulting from the features of, in particular, the lines, contours, colours, shape, texture and/or materials of the product itself and/or its ornamentation. The Act goes on to define a “product” as meaning any industrial or handicraft item, including parts of a more complex product, packaging, get-up, graphic symbols and typographic typefaces.

These definitions make Registered Design protection available for a wide range of designs. As well as protecting the designs of three dimensional products and of patterns for which registered design protection has traditionally been obtained, it is possible to protect items such as logos, computer icons and fictional (e.g. cartoon) characters. In many cases therefore both design and trade mark registrations will be available for the same thing. It is possible to protect the appearance of part of a product, such as the handle of a mug or the lid of a pen.

To register a design an application is made to the UK IPO giving details of the design – usually in the form of drawings or photographs. It is also necessary to indicate what sort of product the design relates to and it is sometimes appropriate to give an indication of what features of the design are considered to be new.

To be valid, the design must be new. In general, that means it must not have been disclosed anywhere in the world before the application is filed, although there are certain exceptions. Disclosures by the designer themselves do not count if they are within a year prior to the application date. However, in case design protection may be required in other countries which do not have this exception, the safest course is to keep any design secret until an application to register it has been filed.

There is no official search or novelty examination, but there is examination for basic formal requirements. Registration, and hence publication, of the design is expected to occur within a few weeks of filing.

Although the basic concept of design registration is simple, the law relating to it is rather complex. As a result, the foregoing is only a very brief and approximate indication of how the system works.

Whilst there is no legal requirement that applicants for Registered Designs be represented, we would recommend that advice be sought from a Patent or Trade Mark Attorney. Professional advice should also be considered if a new product is to be launched so that the risk of infringing someone else’s rights can be considered.