Intellectual property: the basics

IP rights: designs


Designs protect 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.

There are two ways of protecting designs in the UK: unregistered designs and registered designs.

Unregistered designs

Unregistered designs protect:

  • the shape and configuration of a 3-dimensional object (this is known as 'design right')
  • the appearance of a 2-dimensional or 3-dimensional product (this is known as 'supplementary unregistered design right' or 'continuing unregistered community design' if you made your design public in the UK or the EU before 1 January 2021 )

Registered designs

Registered designs protect any aspect of your design, for example the product's appearance, shape, configuration and decoration.

There are important differences between unregistered and registered designs:

  • registration gives you the right to prevent others from using your design for up to 25 years, provided you renew your registered design every five years
  • design rights are automatically protected in the UK for whichever ends first – either 10 years after the design was first sold or 15 years after it was created
  • supplementary unregistered design right is protected in the UK for 3 years from the date you make your design public

Registration also makes taking legal action against infringement and copying more straightforward. See how to register a design.

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.

For a quick introduction to registered designs, watch the Intellectual Property Office video below.

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