Design rights and copyright protect the creation of a design, providing an exclusive right to the creators against copying by third parties without permission.

Design rights protect the appearance of a marketable product. This can include a variety of aspects, such as shapes, textures, colours and configuration and construction of a product. Copyright may exist in designs, which potentially protect any artistic and literary work existing within the finished product.

In general, copyright protects design drawings, but does not prevent anyone from making articles based on the drawings, however design rights would be more appropriate for protecting the articles, in particular the articles in a 3D structure. It is therefore important to consider all applicable IP rights to protect different aspects of a design.

Registered Designs

Design rights are further characterised with registered and unregistered design rights subject to national laws where the protection is sought. In the majority of countries, copyrights and unregistered design rights are treated in a similar manner - both are automatic rights secured upon creation, although copyright may be registered in the US. To enforce your copyright you must prove that your design was copied, whether intentional or not, to enforce your rights. It is advisable to keep a record that proves the date your work was created and recorded in a fixed form. Placing a copyright notice in a prominent place on your work can be used as a proactive means of claiming your copyright.

For registered designs, there is a one-year grace period after a public disclosure arising from the designer for applying for UK and European Community registered designs. However, this grace period is not universally acknowledged, so to keep the options open for design registration in other countries outside Europe, any design registrations should filed before the design is made public.

Designs registered with the UK or EU Intellectual Property Offices grant you monopoly protection for a duration of 25 years from the filing date of your application, provided your design is renewed every 5 years. Registered design protects the overall appearance of the design, excluding features dictated by technical function. To be registerable, your design must be new, so not identical to an existing design, and have individual character. Like patents and trade marks, you can sell or license your design. For a UK registered design, you can extend your UK protection to certain countries, mostly members of the Commonwealth. For an EU registered design, you can extend your protection in all member states of the EU. 

Lately, the UK has joined the Hague Agreement for industrial designs. The UK's membership will be beneficial to businesses for having designs registered in many contracting parties through filing one single international application. Refer to this WIPO page for more information.

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