Intellectual property: the basics

IP rights: designs


A design protects the visual appearance of a product or a part of a product. This appearance can be affected by shape, contour, arrangement, textures, materials and colours.

How to protect your designs

There are two ways of protecting your design in the UK:

  • by design right - which is automatic and protects only the shape and configuration of a three-dimensional item
  • by registered design - which gives you total rights of ownership over the appearance of a product or a part of the product, and protects both three-dimensional and two-dimensional features of a design

There are important differences between the design right and registration. If you decide to register your design, you can do it in a number of ways. See how to register a design.

You must avoid infringing on another owner's design right. If you want to use someone else's design, you may be able to come to an arrangement with the rights owner.

Your design can be an important business asset and - since you can sell or license it - an additional source of revenue. See more about the advantages of protecting your design.

Some areas of design law have been affected by EU Exit. For current information on these, see: changes to unregistered designs from 1 January 2021 and changes to EU and international designs and trade mark protection from 1 January 2021.

For a quick introduction to design registration, watch the Intellectual Property Office video below.

  • Invest NI Helpline
    0800 181 4422
  • IPO Information Centre
    0300 300 2000