In both the UK and EU there is a form of design protection that comes into existence automatically, i.e. you do not have to apply for it or register it. However the rights are a little more limited.

In the UK there is one form of unregistered design right (sometimes referred to simply as “design right”) which is generally available only for designs created by or first marketed in the UK by UK citizens or companies.  It gives a period of protection of fifteen years from creation or (if shorter) ten years from first marketing, but with any person being entitled to take a licence with a reasonable royalty in the last five years. The rights conferred by an unregistered design are restricted to the prevention of acts resulting from copying of the protected design. Therefore an independently created design would not infringe an unregistered design (although it could infringe a corresponding registered design).

UK design right protects the shape or configuration of the whole or part of a three-dimensional article.  It does not protect surface decoration or colours.  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.

A second unregistered design right (known as “Supplementary Unregistered Design right”) is also available and is more closely aligned with the registered design right except that it is limited to three years from first disclosure in the UK.  A similar “Unregistered Community Design Right” also exists in the EU.

Unregistered Community Designs

The Community Design Regulation also establishes the availability of unregistered Community Designs. These have the same broad definition of a “design” and are also subject to the novelty and individual character requirements. The right is automatic from when the design is first made available to the public within the Community and the term of protection is three years from the publication date. This automatic protection is useful for designs of short commercial life.

For long term protection a registered Community Design will be more appropriate in view of the potential 25 year term. Moreover, the rights conferred by an unregistered Community design are restricted to the prevention of acts resulting from copying of the protected design. Therefore an independently created design which would infringe a registered Community Design would not infringe a corresponding unregistered Community Design.

Another advantage of registering a Community Design is that this will provide an official record of the rights of the design owner and a number which can be applied to products bearing the design and help to deter infringement. It is expected that enforcement will be more straightforward than for an unregistered Community Design.


All of these unregistered design rights are also limited in that they are only infringed by copying of the design. They are not infringed by independent creation where no copying is involved.

For unregistered designs, care needs to be taken regarding where the first disclosure takes place (in the UK or in the EU) as such disclosures may invalidate protection in the other jurisdiction.