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DESIGNS < Back to 'Intellectual Property'

Designs are protected by unregistered design right and can also be protected by registering the design.  Both forms of protection protect the appearance of the whole or part of an article, or ornamentation.  Neither form of protection can be used to protect the functionality of a product (ie how it is put together or how it works).  Functionality is protectable by means of a patent.

Unregistered Design Right

Unregistered design right comes into effect when an original design is created and recorded.  Recorded simply means that the design is fixed in some form (for example in the form of a drawing, electronic file or a model or prototype).

There are two unregistered design rights in effect in the United Kingdom.  The first is a national right that applies to the United Kingdom and the second is a Community right that applies to the whole of the European Union.

The United Kingdom right lasts for fifteen years from when the design is first recorded or ten years from when it was first marketed, if that is earlier.  The Community right lasts for three years from the date on which the design is first publicly disclosed.

From the point of view of the rights owner, the unregistered rights are attractive because it is not necessary to take any action to obtain them and so there are no attorney fees.  However, as compared with the registered right, there are the disadvantages of shorter duration and having to prove copying in infringement proceedings.

Registered Designs

As with the unregistered design right, there are two levels of registered right effective in the United Kingdom.  There is a United Kingdom national right and a Community right. 

If properly handled, Community and United Kingdom design registration applications should proceed speedily to registration without any interaction with the registering authority. 

Community and United Kingdom design registrations have a maximum life of twenty five years from the date of filing, subject to the payment of renewal fees at five yearly intervals.

For both the Community and United Kingdom registered design, there is a grace period of twelve months from the first disclosure of the design by the owner of the rights to the design during which an application to register the design can be filed.  Thus, unlike patents, it is not necessary to file an application prior to publicly disclosing the design.

Bearing in mind the twelve month grace period, when considering the filing of a Community or United Kingdom design application, it may be worth reviewing designs made public during the previous twelve months to see whether these could be covered in a multiple application, so taking advantage of the cost benefits of multiple applications.  Put crudely, multiple design applications contain more than one design and the benefit to the Applicant is that you get discount for bulk.
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