Design rights – what are they and who owns them?
Whilst most people have heard of copyright and trademarks, design right is another type of intellectual property right that can be useful to bear in mind where you have designed a functional product. You don’t need detailed drawings in order to attract protection, and you don’t even necessarily have to register it.
Design right protects the appearance of a purely functional product with no aesthetic appeal e.g. agricultural tools or clothes pegs. The default position is that the designer (the person who created the design) is the first owner of design right in his or her work.
You can register your design with the Designs Registry for a fee of £50 (if filed electronically), and your right then lasts for 25 years from the date of registration, subject to the payment of 5-yearly renewal fees (£70 per renewal if filed electronically).
Unregistered designs last for the lessor of (i) 15 years from the end of the calendar year when the design was first recorded in a design document or (if earlier) from when the article was first made to the design; or (ii) 10 years from the end of the calendar year when articles made to the design were first made available for sale or hire.
Example: You designed an original rubber moulded foot for supporting hardware in industrial applications in March 2012, and have a drawing of the foot that you sketched at the time. You then made a prototype of the foot in February 2013, following which you began manufacture on a larger scale and launched the product in June 2015. Your unregistered design right protection would last until 1 January 2026, which is 10 years from the end of the calendar year when you first made the product available for sale.
Even though you, as the original designer, own the design right, if you intend to sell the product you should ensure that your sale contract or terms and conditions retain that right, and that you do not inadvertently transfer this to the purchaser. It is worth double-checking your sale documentation for this and making sure that your (well-drafted) terms and conditions apply to the sale.
If you have any queries about design right protection contact Jo Ford on firstname.lastname@example.org.