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A Registered Design is an IP right that can be used to protect the appearance of a design. One only needs to consider the commercial success of Apple’s iPod (RTM) to realise that consumers’ purchasing decisions are often driven by style, fashion and outward appearance, rather than the relative technical features and benefits of products. Accordingly, the rights subsisting in designs can be of enormous commercial value.

In the UK 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.

In the UK and Europe, 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.

In the UK and Europe, the key requirements for designs to be protectable using IP 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. We have prepared the table below, which illustrates some of the key differences between the various rights.



IP Right

UK Design Right

Unregistered (European) Community Designs

UK Registered Designs

Registered (European) Community Designs


10 years from creation or first marketing, but with licenses available as of right during the last 5 years

3 years from when the design is first made available to entities operating within the EU

Maximum of 25 years from the filing or priority date, subject to annuity payments every 5 years

Scope of protection

Protects against acts of copying, but not against independent creation of a similar or identical design

Can be used against competitors who make the same of a similar design whether copied or created independently

Cost & Procedure

Free & arises automatically

Official & professional fees to pay. Registration procedure involved


UK only


UK only



IP primer

The outward appearance of a design can be protected by Design Right and by Registered Designs

design protection