As distinct from patents, design protection covers the appearance of the whole or part of a product rather than the way it works.  The features of the design may include its shape or its surface decoration or colours.

Unregistered Design Protection

In the UK there is an automatic protection, known as UK design right.  This is generally available only to designs created by European Union citizens.  It gives a period of protection of ten years, but with any person being entitled to take a licence with a reasonable royalty in the last five years.

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. 

Both forms of unregistered design protection require proof of ownership and copying if they are to be enforced.  For our summary on unregistered designs, please select from the left hand menu.

Registered Design Protection

By registering a design an owner can obtain a longer term of protection of up to twenty-five years and does not have to show copying for enforcement.  National UK registered designs are available, as well as registered Community designs, which cover all EU countries.  For our summary on registered designs, please select from the left hand menu.