Protection for your designs, whether they are 2-D drawings or 3-D articles, is provided by Registered Designs and by Unregistered Design Right.  Registration of a design in the UK or the European Union (EU) costs a few hundred pounds per Design and gives the proprietor a monopoly for up to 25 years.  Unregistered Design Right provides shorter and more limited protection. 

Registered Designs
In the UK and EU, Registered Designs protect the appearance of a whole or part of a product resulting from features such as its lines, contours, colours, shape, texture or materials, or its surface decoration.  Registration is simple.  Designs can be registered in the UK alone, or as a single EU-wide right.  Designs that are registered are enforceable if, at the time of filing, they are new and have individual character, which is determined with reference to the overall impression of an informed user in the product field in question.  Even independently created designs can infringe.  Registered Designs do not protect methods or principles of construction or purely functional shapes. 

Unregistered Designs
Unregistered Designs in the UK benefit from two types of protection, a UK Right and an EU Right.  Independently created designs cannot infringe.  The UK right can only be enforced if the design is considered original and not commonplace, again with reference to the product field in question.  It has a duration of no more than 15 years, which drops to around 10 years from first sale once articles according to the Design are being sold.  The UK right does not protect surface decoration, incidentally.  The duration of the EU Right is only three years from when the product becomes publically known in the EU.  This EU Right is especially useful to the fashion industry as it protects surface decoration. Unregistered Rights arise automatically upon creation and provide some protection; however, for only a few hundred pounds for each five-yearly renewal, a Registered Design can provide up to 25 years protection.  As such, Registered Designs provide a cost-effective way of protecting the appearance of your products.

Always make sure that ownership is considered when commissioning design work, as ownership of design work is now not automatically transferred to the commissioner, and rests in the designer - law change 1st October 2014.


Copyright in the UK subsists in original literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works; sound recordings, films or broadcasts; and the typographical arrangement of published editions.  Copyright subsists from the moment the work is created and requires no registration; however, Copyright is anything but simple. 

Its duration depends upon which category of Copyright is applicable.  For example, Copyright in literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works expires at the end of the period of seventy years from the end of the calendar year in which the author dies.  The duration is less for other categories. 

The most common rights that are created are literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works, and together these include: recorded works which are written, spoken or sung, such as a table or compilation, a computer program, and a database; a graphic work (painting, drawing, diagram, map, plan, engraving, etching, lithograph), a photograph, sculpture or collage irrespective of artistic quality; a work of architecture, e.g. a model; or a work of artistic craftsmanship.  Databases are considered a compilation of independent works or data arranged in a systematic or methodical way which are individually accessible by electronic or other means, and copyright subsist if the database is original, i.e. the author’s own intellectual creation. 

The author of the work is the person who created the work; however, if that person is employed, ownership typically resides with the employer, subject to other contractual relations. 

Infringement of Copyright is, in summary, actual copying a work (directly or indirectly); issuing the work to the public; renting or lending the work; performing, showing or playing the work in public, without consent.  At least a creative part of the work must be copied.   Some exclusions do apply, for example, fair dealing is allowed (research for non-commercial purposes and private study) but this does not include making multiple copies, and criticism, review and news reporting is allowed if properly acknowledged. 

Copyright is not automatically transferred to a commissioner of a work.  So, if you wish to own the Copyright, make sure that the Copyright is assigned as part of your agreement.