Guest post: design rights

When should you get a registered design? And what should you file?



When should you get a registered design? And what should you file?

Out of all the IP rights, designs are perhaps the most obscure. But in theory they are quite simple – designs are about the appearance of products; a registered design protects “what the product looks like”.

So, a registered design can be obtained for almost any product with a new appearance. If it has been designed in the sense that somebody has put some thought into what it looks like, then it can probably be protected. That includes functional products like coat hangers, face cleaning brushes and blind headrails (all of which are the subject of real registered designs which have been successfully enforced). It includes products which are, or could be, also protected by patents. Patents protect the technical invention – the way it works. Design protection is for something different – what it looks like.

A design “update” for a new product version, even making relatively minor changes, should also prompt at least a conversation about whether a new registration should be filed.

A design registration should be filed ideally before a product is disclosed to the public. In the UK and Europe, there is a grace period which makes this a more flexible rule. However, international protection will be compromised and other risks arise if a design is disclosed before filing. Filing first is always best.

Actually filing a design registration is fairly straightforward – the registration just comprises a series of images showing the design. However, what those images actually show is absolutely critical.

Thought needs to be put into what design features need to be protected, and whether the design needs to include colours, contrasts, and other surface features, or whether it is only for the shape of the product. Multiple designs for a single product can often provide the best and most flexible protection.

Seek advice early, and we will help you get the best protection.

About the author

Frederick Noble is a British and European Patent Attorney at Albright IP.