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Design rights: what innovation-driven businesses need to know

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Design rights are a key tool for innovators looking to protect their ideas

In this guide we provide an overview of everything you need to know about design rights and how they can be deployed in your business.

Image of a notepad and pencil. there are several scribbled designs on the page - you can tell this is a smart and energetic designer

Photo by Med Badr Chemmaoui on Unsplash

Words by Dr Martin Douglas Hendry




As a business owner or manager in the UK, it's important to understand the legal protections available for your company's innovative designs. Whether you're a small start-up or a large corporation, investing in design is key to staying competitive in today's market. But with that investment comes the need to safeguard your intellectual property (IP) from being copied or exploited by others. That's where design rights come in.

Design rights are a form of IP protection that can help you prevent others from using your designs without your permission. In this blog, we'll explore what design rights are, how they can benefit your business, and what steps you need to take to secure them.



What are design rights?


Design rights are a form of legal protection that covers the appearance of a product, rather than its function. This can include features such as the shape, configuration, pattern, or ornamentation of a product. Design rights are intended to protect the visual appearance of a product, not the underlying idea or concept behind it.

In the UK, design rights are governed by the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. This act provides two types of design rights: registered and unregistered.



Registered design rights


Registered design rights provide the strongest form of protection for your designs. To qualify for registered design rights, your design must be new and have individual character. This means that it must be different from any other design that has been made available to the publlc before.

Once your design has been registered, it will be protected for up to 25 years. During this time, you will have the exclusive right to use, license, or sell your design. You can also take legal action against anyone who uses your design without your permission.

To register a design, you will need to apply to the UK Intellectual Property Office (UK IPO). This process involves providing detailed information about your design, as well as paying a fee. The UK IPO will then review your application to determine if it meets the eligibility criteria for registered design rights.



Unregistered design rights


In addition to registered design rights, the UK also provides unregistered design rights. Unregistered design rights offer a lower level of protection than registered design rights, but they are automatic and do not require any application or fee.

Unregistered design rights protect the shape or configuration of a product that is the result of its design. This means that unregistered design rights will not protect surface decoration or ornamentation.

Unlike registered design rights, unregistered design rights only last for a limited time. In the UK, unregistered design rights last for up to 15 years from the date the design was first made available to the public. After this time, the design enters the public domain and can be used by anyone.



Benefits of design rights for innovation-driven businesses


As an innovation-driven business, securing design rights can provide a number of benefits. Here are a few key reasons why your business should consider protecting its designs:

Protect your investment in design: Investing in design is essential for staying competitive in today's market. By securing design rights, you can protect your investment and prevent others from using your designs without your permission.

Create a unique brand identity: Design is a powerful tool for building a strong and recognizable brand. By securing design rights, you can prevent others from using designs that are similar to your own, helping to create a unique brand identity.

Prevent copycats and imitators: Design rights can help to prevent competitors from copying your designs or creating imitations.





In conclusion, design rights are an important tool for innovation-driven businesses in the UK. By protecting your company's designs, you can safeguard your investment in design, create a unique brand identity, and prevent copycats and imitators. Whether you choose to register your design or rely on unregistered design rights, taking steps to protect your designs can provide numerous benefits for your business. It's important to understand your options and take the appropriate steps to secure design rights for your company's innovative designs.

Are you a business owner looking to protect what makes you unique? Get in touch with our team by clicking the button below to learn how we can protect what makes you special.


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Look at our other guides that relate to this topic here.

The importance of trademark registration in your business

Why you should care about protecting your intellectual property

The impact of IP law on innovation and creativity



Virtuoso Legal is a team of intellectual property specialists based in Leeds and London - operating worldwide. Virtuoso Legal's team of IP experts have successfully tried cases in the IPEC, High Court, Court of Appeals and United Kingdom Supreme Court. In addition, the team assist companies in creating, commercialising and protecting the big ideas that make their business unique. The firm and its professionals are ranked yearly in legal directories such as the Legal 500 and Chambers and Partners, cementing their status as a Top 2% law firm in the world.

DISCLAIMER: The content within this post is for educational purposes only. Virtuoso Legal does not take any responsibility for those that use this information and waives any liability for any resulting effect on your personal or commercial circumstances. If you are experiencing an issue and need advice, we strongly encourage you to contact a solicitor to identify your best course of action.

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