Designs protect appearance…

Design rights generally protect the appearance, shape or configuration of an article.  Both registered and unregistered design rights exist.  Unregistered design rights are like copyright in that they arise automatically and there is no formal registration process.  However, registered design rights offer a broader scope of protection for a longer period of time, and therefore registered designs can be a valuable tool for commercially important designs.  Registered designs must be “new” and possess “individual character”.  Designs which are defined wholly by their functionality, or those which must fit or must match other components, are excluded from design protection.  In many cases, a new commercial product may be protected by both patents and designs, protecting both the function and the look of the product.  This short video explains the interface between patents and designs:

Individual character is key…

In order to qualify for registration, designs must be “new” and possess “individual character”.  “Individual character” means that the design must create a “different overall impression” on an informed user compared to that produced by any earlier design.

The application process…

Unlike patents, which require absolute novelty, registered designs have a 12-month grace period in which the designer’s own disclosures are excluded from consideration.  This means that design rights can be obtained for products which are already on the market, if the earliest disclosure by the designer falls within the preceding 12-months. 

How long do they last?

Registered design rights typically last 25 years, subject to payment of renewal fees at 5 year intervals.  The duration of unregistered design rights is typically up to a maximum of 15 years.