Design right and registration

Unregistered design right

In the UK, unregistered design rights protect the shape or configuration of products. The rights arise automatically on the creation of the work and come into force when the article is first made or 'fixed' in a document - eg a drawing or a computer model.

How long does UK design right last?

UK design right lasts for ten or 15 years, depending on when the product is first sold or created – whichever comes earliest. You can buy, sell or licence a design right.

What is eligible for unregistered design right?

For the design rights to apply, the design has to be:

  • original - ie your own work and not a copy
  • non-commonplace - ie not broadly known in the similar category of products

A design right will not apply if the design is dictated by the need to fit onto something else or match the rest of the product.

UK design right also won't apply to any two-dimensional surface decoration, eg textiles or wallpaper. For this, see registered designs.

Who owns the design right?

Generally, the design right belongs to the person who created the design. However:

  • if the work was created by an employee during the course of employment, the right will belong to the employer
  • if the work was commissioned from a designer, the person commissioning the work will own the rights (unless otherwise agreed)

What do design rights protect?

Design rights protect against unauthorised copying. However, a design right is not a monopoly right and may not stop others from producing similar articles by independent creation.

In infringement actions, the burden will be on you (ie the owner of the right) to show that the right exists and that copying has taken place.

European unregistered community designs

Designs, including patterns, may be automatically protected in the European Union (EU) as 'unregistered community designs'. This gives your design three years of protection from copying.

Important: If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, the UK government plans to ensure that all unregistered community designs which exist at the point of exit continue to be protected and enforceable in the UK for the remaining period of protection of the right.

In addition to this, the UK will create a new supplementary unregistered design right to mirror the characteristics of the unregistered community design. This should allow the designs that are disclosed post-exit to be protected in the UK under the current terms of the unregistered community design. Read more about the continued protection of unregistered community designs if the UK exits the EU without a deal.