The outward appearance of a design can be protected by Registered Designs and/or by Design Right. In the UK and Europe:
- There are a number of parallel IP rights that can be used to protect designs, namely UK Design Right, Unregistered (European) Community Design Right, Registered Designs and Registered (European) Community Designs. These rights can overlap and even subsist in parallel with other IP rights, such as patents, trade marks and copyright.
- The design is protected independently any article to which it may be applied. Therefore, the design rights in the shape of a motor vehicle, for example, can also extend to cover such things as toy cars, novelty computer mice, paperweights, salt shakers or indeed any other article which does not create on the informed user a different overall impression to the design in question.
- The key requirements for designs to be protectable are that the design is new and that it creates a different overall impression on the informed user to earlier designs. The scope of protection conferred is similarly worded and enables the IP right holder to take action against people who make, sell, keep, import etc. designs that are the same, or that create on the informed user the same overall impression as the design protected by the IP right in question.
The IP rights in designs can be unregistered and arise automatically (as in the case of Design Right) or can be registered (as in the case of Registered Designs) in which case an application procedure needs to be undertaken and official fees paid.
Each system of protection has its advantages and disadvantages in terms of cost, duration, territories covered, rights conferred etc. and each case needs to be assessed individually to determine the optimum form of protection.