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There are two main ways in which designers in the UK are protected from others profiting from their designs- through unregistered design rights and registered designs. There are two forms of unregistered rights - a UK unregistered design right and an unregistered community design. The UK right lasts for 15-16 years from creation or 10 years from first marketing, whichever is the later and is automatically associated with new designs without any registration process. An unregistered community design comes into being upon first publication of an original design and lasts for three years. This is quite a substantial right and has been created to protect new designs in the fashion and other fast moving design industries.

The unregistered design rights give the owner the exclusive right to prevent others from copying his design or a substantial part of his design (or to give the same overall impression). The onus is on the alleger to show that the allegedly infringing design was copied and not an independent creation.

The other form of protection for designers is the Registered Design, which is again available as a community-wide registration or in the UK only. This is discussed in more detail below. A summary of the different design rights in Europe can be found here: http://www.out-law.com/page-7088.

Design Registration Facts

Protect:

The aesthetic appearance of an article, the overall impression of a design applied to an article, a surface decoration

Effect:

Without permission, or a license from the design owner, no person or company can make, use, import or sell an article having the registered design applied to it in the country covered by the patent irrespective of whether that person or company copied the design or created the design independently. Registered Design protection is an absolute right.

Protections:

Designs which are purely functional

Duration:

25 years from the date of filing of the application

Cost:

Low-ish. The lifetime cost of a UK Registered Design would be about £800. A Registered Community Design (covering the whole EU) would have a lifetime cost of about £1200-1400.


Designs protect the aesthetic rather than functional elements of a design as applied to an article. To qualify for protection a design must be original and have distinctive character.

Excluded from design protection are those elements of a design which are purely functional, which have to be shaped or configured in a certain way in order to work.

Finally, unlike patents in the UK and Europe, there is a grace period for filing design registration applications. They must be filed within one year of the design having been made available to the public. This gives the applicant the opportunity to establish whether the design is going to be popular or not, but means running the risk of having to prove similar designs subsequently produced by others were copied rather than benefit from the absolute right conferred by registration.

Design registrations provide an exclusive right to the owner to use the design on articles to which it is applied (or beyond, depending upon the nature of the design registration). By this, it is meant that the owner can prevent any third parties from using or applying the registered design, or a design that gives the same overall impression, to an article.

The breadth of protection depends very much upon the field of design. For very busy design fields, the protection available is much narrower than in new fields of design, as you might expect.

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