Designs Copyright

UK Registered Design Protection and UK Unregistered Design Rights

November 29, 2018

UK unregistered design right (UDR) was created to complement copyright and registered design rights in the UK. UK Registered design right protects the shape and decoration of a product, but not internal features and features having a technical function, which are excluded from protection.

Copyright in drawings was formerly used to protect these aspects, which resulted in a much longer period of protection (which at the time was life of the designer plus 50 years). This meant that the designer of a non-registerable functional item (such as an exhaust pipe) was able to benefit from longer protection than would be the case for a registerable design, which is 25 years.

To address this disparity, the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 (CDPA) introduced UDR to replace the role of copyright with regards to such non-registerable designs. Artistic works, such as sculptures, continued to enjoy copyright protection.

UK UDR lasts for 10 calendar years from the end of the year of first marketing of items embodying the design. Prior to 2014, UK UDR automatically subsisted in any aspect of the shape or configuration, whether internal or external, of a whole or part of a product. The right holder thus obtained a bundle of rights.

In 2014, the definition of “design” was amended such that going forward UDR no longer subsists in ‘any aspect’ of an article, only the whole or part of it. The consequence of this amendment was to reduce the number of different rights in the bundle of rights which subsist in a design. For example, whereas prior to 2014 disembodied features of a product, such as the end portion of a spout of a tea pot, would be included in the bundle of rights, this is no longer the case. However, concrete parts of a design, for example the spout of a tea pot, are still included in the bundle of rights.

It has always been worthwhile obtaining registered design protection for a product as it complements the protection provided by UDR, and also lasts significantly longer.

As consequence of the law change, UDR is not as comprehensive as it once was. Accordingly, if there are certain features of a product (or certain combinations of features) that cannot be seen as forming a concrete part of the design, then a registered design directed to these particular features may be advisable.

It follows therefore that serious thought should be given to the filing of registered designs not only for the product as a whole but also for important features. The additional cost of having one or two extra designs to cover certain features, in addition to the first design to cover the product as a whole, is relatively low.

Swindell & Pearson is a UK based intellectual property firm that has been helping businesses and individuals obtain patent, trade mark, and design right protection for their ideas, innovations and brands for over 135 years. With its head office in Derby, the firm also has offices throughout the Midlands including in Stoke, Wolverhampton and Stafford, as well as an office in Sheffield. To find out how Swindell & Pearson can help you and your business with any patent, trade mark or design right matters please get in touch via [email protected] or by telephone on 01332 367 051.