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Intellectual property: Design

Last updated: 01 April 2022

Intellectual property: Design

According to the Design Council rapidly growing businesses are twice as likely as the UK average to have increased investment in design and for every £100 a business spends on design increases turnover by £225.

The Design Council National Survey of Firms 2005 also found that two thirds of companies who ignore design have to compete mainly on price, whereas only one third of those who have integral design need to do so. In addition it found that a staggering 80% of design led companies have opened up new markets over the last three years compared to just 40% of UK companies overall. But if design is part of your intellectual property, you need to know how to protect and register it and what your rights are.

Design protection covers the outward appearance of your product, including decoration, lines, contours, colours, shape, texture and materials. If you have a new shape or pattern for a product, you may be able to protect it as a design. In the UK, designs are protected by three legal rights; registered designs, design right and copyright.  Some rights are automatic and free, others must be registered, renewed and paid for. They are all time related.


Registered designs

Registered designs give you the right to stop anyone copying or using your design in the United Kingdom for up to 25 years. A registered design gives you a monopoly right for the look of a product, protecting both the shape and the pattern or decoration. It will cover the lines, contours, colours, shape, texture and materials of the product or its ornamentation.

To be registered, a design must:

  • be new
  • have individual character; meaning, it should not remind an informed person of an existing design.

If you have such a design you may want to consider applying for a registered design. If you do register a design, you must renew it every 5 years for up to 25 years.


Design right

Design right is a free, automatic right that you get when you create an original design. It gives you the right to stop anyone copying your design – the internal or external shape or configuration for up to 15 years.

While design right allows you to stop anyone from copying the shape or configuration of the product it does not give you protection for any of the 2-dimensional aspects, for example patterns. So if you want to protect 2-dimensional designs you must use copyright or registered design.

Design right lasts either 10 years after the first marketing of products that use the design or 15 years after creation of the design, whichever is earlier.

For the first 5 years you can stop anyone from copying the design. For the rest of the time the design is subject to a license of right. This means that anyone is entitled to a license to make and sell products copying the design.



If your design is artistic and you do not intend to mass produce it, you will receive automatic copyright protection against illegal copying. Copyright also protects any drawings or plans of your design.

Copyright protects creative or artistic works. You should only copy or use a copyrighted work with the copyright owner’s permission. You can copyright: literature (including novels), instruction manuals, computer programs, song lyrics, newspaper articles, some types of database, drama (including dance or mime), music, art (including paintings, engravings, photographs, sculptures, collages, architecture, technical drawings, diagrams, maps and logos), layouts used to publish a work for a book, recordings of a work (including sound and film) and broadcasts of a work.

Copyright applies to any medium which means that you must not reproduce copyright protected work in another medium without permission. This includes publishing photographs on the internet, making a sound recording of a book, and so on.

Copyright does not protect ideas for a work. However, when an idea is fixed, for example in writing, copyright automatically protects it. This means that you do not have to apply for copyright.

A copyright protected work can have more than one copyright, or another intellectual property (IP) right, connected to it. For example, an album of music can have separate copyrights for individual songs, sound recordings, artwork, and so on. Whilst copyright can protect the artwork of your logo, you could also register the logo as a trade mark.


Registering a design

If you think you have a design worth registering, check first with the United Kingdom Intellectual Property Organisation (IPO) to see whether your proposed application is already registered Not only will they tell you if your design is the same as an existing registered design in the UK or the European Community, but also whether any UK or EC registered designs could give the same overall impression as your design.

These searches do not cover designs protected by design right or copyright, but it is the first step you should take.  You can search the database and view registered designs online, to get an idea of whether your design is already registered but it is not comprehensive designs search facility and is not conclusive.

There are two different types of expert searches of the UK and European Community registers, both are confidential and if you use them you will get a report and will be able to discuss it with the examiner.

  • image search – this will check whether your design or somebody else’s is similar or identical to any existing registered designs. This will help you decide whether you might face a future legal challenge if you applied formally for a registered design. Alternatively you could use this search to help inform you whether an existing registered design is valid and, as a result, vulnerable to legal challenge
  • proprietor search – to identify any registered designs owned by an individual or company. This can give you an insight into your competitors’ designs.


Costs of searching and registering a design

Costs of an image search depend on how many designs are classified in the product area you want searched.  A simple search can be £55 plus VAT, but if you need a broader search then the average cost will be around £350 plus VAT.

A proprietor search costs £50 plus VAT per proprietor name searched. You can a free cost estimate before you start. A report will be issued within 10 working days.

You can search for details and view the images of registered designs. You can search:

  • by number
  • by proprietor
  • by class of product
    or any combination of the above.

Register extracts are provided for each image (costs £16 each). Images are available for registered designs (with the exception of textiles) that were in force as at 1 June 1997 and that have been registered since. The oldest non textile registered design available is number 1003805 dated November 1981.

Requests with the correct fee and filled in fee sheet should be sent to the following address;

Concept House
Cardiff Road
South Wales
NP10 8QQ

It costs £60 to apply to register a single design or the first design in any multiple application. For every additional design in any multiple application it costs £40 per design. You can defer the publication of a design by up to 12 months – £40 to apply and register a single design or the first design in any multiple application. For every additional design in any multiple application it costs £20 per design.  There are no refunds.

If your design application is not objected to, it should be registered within 3 months and you should get a letter within two months of application.

If the examiner objects to your design, you will have up to 2 months to try to persuade us that the objections are not justified, overcome them in some other way, or you can  withdraw your application. The UKIPO will:

  • register your design in the United Kingdom Designs Register;
  • publish your registration details in our Patents and Designs Journal; and
  • publish your design illustrations in our ‘Designs in View’ publication.

Both the Patents and Designs Journal and ‘Designs in View’ are published every Wednesday.


Useful websites

Intellectual Property Office
Design council

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