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What is an industrial design?

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What is an Industrial design & how do they work

Disclaimer: This FAQ should not be construed as legal advice on any specific facts. The contents are intended for general informational purposes only. You are urged to consult your own solicitor on any specific legal questions you may have.
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by Dr Martin Douglas Hendry

What is an Industrial design?


Industrial designs, which are commonly referred to as "designs," are protected by a variety of legal systems all around the world. Industrial designs are intellectual property rights that protect a product's visual appearance rather than its functionality, which is protected by a patent.

An industrial design can be made up of a product's shape, pattern, and/or colour; it can be made up of just one of these aspects, or a mix of two or three. Some countries, such as Japan, have specific laws protecting industrial designs; others, such as China, do not treat industrial designs as patented solutions, although in certain other countries if specific conditions are met, industrial designs might be protected under copyright.

Even in countries where patents are used to protect industrial designs, different procedures and practices are used. For example, China combines protection for inventions, utility models, and industrial designs into a single Patent Law, but Italy and Uruguay govern utility models and industrial designs separately and handle inventions separately.

An industrial design must be applied to a product when it comes to appearance of the product. Certain works of art, calligraphy, and photography may not be protected by industrial design, although they may be protected by copyright in some situations.

For information on design rights in the UK, we have a FAQ dedicated to this in which you can learn how to apply and protect your design within the UK and the EU. Click here to read.

For more IP answers, review our FAQ section here.
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