If you’ve designed something new that has a special shape, configuration, pattern or ornamentation and you don’t want anyone to copy it, then you could apply to the intellectual property office to register your design. You’ll get a legal right to stop others using it without your permission. The UK registered designs need to be renewed every five years and last for a maximum of 25 years.
A registered design protects the look or appearance of a product, whereas if you have designed something with new functionality such as a new needle threading device then you may want to apply for a patent which protects how something works.
Some products can’t be registered because they don’t fit the criteria to be considered a design or they are shaped in a way to achieve a technical function or shaped in a way solely to fit to something else.
You can benefit from automatic design rights which are a UK unregistered design right in the UK and an unregistered community design in Europe but these are limited, are harder to enforce and have a shorter duration of protection. A surface pattern is not protected by UK and registered design rights, so if you have a distinctive pattern that you don’t want to be copied you really should apply for a registered design.
You should carefully consider whether it would be wise to rely solely on an unregistered design right because where disputes arise you may have to show evidence of the existence of the rights.
It is a criminal act for someone to intentionally copy a registered design which may result in high fines and imprisonment whereas for unregistered designs it is your responsibility to prove intentional copying. If you’re a designer, design a maker or design innovator you can get practical advice and specialist support to help you understand and manage your intellectual property.
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