It's essential that you respect design right or registered designs. If you do not, the design owner can take legal action against you and you may have to pay costs and damages in compensation. This can happen even if you did not intentionally infringe the design.
If you intentionally copy someone's design without the consent of its owner, whilst knowing or having reason to believe the design is registered, you could be committing a criminal offence.
Carry out design clearance searches
Before you use a design, you should carry out due diligence searches. You should check the existing intellectual property registers to find out if the design belongs to someone else.
You can search for:
You can also ask the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) to conduct the search on your behalf for £24. You will have to give them details of the product and an illustration of the design you want them to search for. Request a search of the UK design register.
Finally, trade mark and patent attorneys should be able to carry out a thorough search on your behalf.
What to do if you infringe design rights
If you are concerned about infringing someone else's design, seek legal advice as early as possible. If the infringement already happened and the design owner intends to sue you, you can try to reach an agreement about using their design. You may be able to license or buy the rights to use the design.
If someone sues you for infringement, but you believe that you have not infringed their design, you will have to prove so. Common defences include private use and not for commercial purposes, and use for experimental purposes.
Validity of design registration
Design applications generally don't undergo stringent examinations. A design may be invalid if it is not novel or does not have an individual character. You cannot enforce invalid design registrations so, if someone is suing you for design infringement, you may want to consider challenging the validity of their design.
Bear in mind, however, that if you lose, you will have to pay the legal costs of both sides, so seek professional advice beforehand.
If you suspect that someone is infringing your design rights, see design infringement.