Design protection takes two forms. Registered design gives stronger protection and involves applying to the Intellectual Property Office (IPO). Unregistered design rights give weaker but automatic protection without the need to register the design.


Registered design

What is a registered design?

It is a total right of ownership of the appearance of a product or part of a product.  It lasts for five years but it may be extended over four five-year periods up to a maximum of 25 years. Registering a design provides further protection over any protection which may already exist automatically in the design.  Ac registered design is a property which, like any other business commodity, can be bought, sold or licensed.

Requirements for a registered design

Your design must be novel at the time you apply- this means it must not be identical to a design that has already been made available to the public.

The design must also possess individual character- this means that the overall impression that it produces must be different from any other design which has been made available to the public.

You cannot register a design where:

  • The appearance of the product design is set because of its technical function;
  • The design must be reproduced in an exact form and dimensions in order to allow the product to perform its function;
  • The design goes against public policy or accepted principles of public morality; or
  • No permission has been obtained from the concerned country where a design incorporates a foreign flag or protected symbol. Any UK flag or symbol can be used as long as it is not in a derogatory manner and not owned by the Royal Family.

Note: What is the difference between a patent and a registered design? A registered design applies to the appearance of a product or part of a product. A patent is concerned with the function, operation, manufacture or material of an item.

What rights do registered designs provide?

A registered design gives you the exclusive right to use the design and any similar design.

Using the design includes:

  • Making, offering, selling, importing or exporting a product to which the design has been applied;
  • Stocking a product for those purposes; or
  • Letting others use the design under terms agreed with you as the registered owner.

You also have the right to take legal action against anyone using your design without your permission and to claim damages from them. Finally, the fact that your design is registered may be enough to put anyone off using your design without your permission.

How can I register a design in the UK?

As the owner of the design, you must apply to the IPO’s Designs Registry. You will need to send them:

  • Photos, drawings or a 2 dimensional sample of the design;
  • An application form; and
  • A filing fee.

If your design meets their requirements, they will send you a certificate of registration. Correctly filed applications are registered within two months.

Note: you can apply for as many designs as you like on one application form- this is known as a multiple application and you will need to provide separate information for each different design you’re applying for.

If you need to make changes to your design, you will need to make a separate application to register those changes.

Does a UK registration give protection abroad?

A UK-registered design applies only in the United Kingdom and the Isle of Man. However, some countries accept registration of a design in the UK as equivalent to a registration in their country.

For more information about registered designs or to register a design, visit the IPO website.


Unregistered Design

An unregistered design right (Design Right) is an automatic intellectual property right which applies to an original design of the shape or configuration of an item. A  Design Right is not a total right of ownership- it is a right to prevent copying that lasts for 10 years after you have first marketed an item made to the design, up to a overall limit of 15 years from the date design was created.  Like registered design rights, they can also be bought sold, or licensed.

Design Rights protects designs created by nationals, residents or companies of the European Union, and designs created by citizens of the United Kingdom.

Requirements for a Design Right

The design must be:

  • Of the shape or configuration of an item(so two dimensional designs such as textile or wallpaper designs will not qualify); and
  • Not commonplace (well-known routine designs will not qualify).


Design features which allow one item to be functionally fitted or matched to another item get no protection. These so-called ‘must fit’ and ‘must match’ exceptions are there to make sure that competing designs for spare parts cannot be kept out of the market.  However, competitors must not copy features of a protected design where there is no need to do so.

Do I have to apply for an Deign Right?

No. Unregistered Deign Right is like copyright in the sense that you are protected automatically when you create the design. However, it may be wise to keep a note of:

  • When you first recorded the design; and
  • When articles made to the design were first made available for sale or hire.

This information may be useful if someone challenges your rights in the design or if you believe someone is copying the design without your permission

What protection do Design Rights give?

Unregistered Design Rights give you an exclusive right to your design for five years after you first market it. People can then apply for licences of right to use your design for the remaining five years.  This means that, in general, during the first five years no one can make or trade in items copying your design without your permission. If they do, you can claim damages from them in the civil courts, apply or an injunction. During the last five years of your Design Right, anyone will be entitled to a licence to make and sell items copying your design. However, you will not have to make your design drawings or know-how available to them.

Does the Design Right give protection abroad?

Design Rights applies only in the UK, and any other countries that the UK has reciprocal agreements with.