Jane Lambert
27 May 2010

In everyday language the word design may refer to an article’s functions as in the design of a circuit, reactor or website or to its appearance as in the design of a dress, garden or piece of furniture. Obviously the two are not mutually exclusive since the aerodynamic lines of a sports car or the span of a bridge can be things of beauty as well as feats of engineering.   The law protects both functional and ornamental design.

Functional Design

In the UK, aspects of the shape or configuration (whether internal or external) of the whole or any part of an article are protected from copying by a new intellectual property right known as “design right”.   That right arises automatically whenever an original design is recorded in a design document or prototype by a person who meets specified nationality or residence qualifications. Excluded from protection are methods or principles of construction, features that enable the article to connect with or match another or surface decoration.

Ornamental Design

New designs having individual character can be registered with the Intellectual Property Office as “registered designs” or with the Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market as “registered Community designs”. “Design” for this purpose means “the appearance of the whole or a part of a product resulting from the features of, in particular, the lines, contours, colours, shape, texture or materials of the product or its ornamentation.”   A design is new if no identical design or no design whose features differ only in immaterial details has hitherto been made available to the public.   A design has individual character if the overall impression it produces on the informed user differs from the overall impression produced on such a user by any design which had previously been made available to the public.   New designs having individual character are protected automatically from copying as unregistered Community designs” in all 27 member states of the European Union.

Surface Decoration

Artwork for fabrics, wall and floor coverings, screen output and other surface decoration is protected automatically from copying by copyright as original artistic works.