Design rights protect the appearance of a product and are therefore of significant value in industries where product appearance is of critical importance. One such area that comes to mind is in consumer electronics, for example in relation to smart phones, where a sleek and expensive looking product can sway consumers into making a purchase.

Designs may be protected by a registered or unregistered right, with registered design rights offering a stronger form of protection than unregistered design rights. That said, unregistered design rights should not be overlooked, particularly as they arise automatically when certain conditions are met and without cost.

Both the UK and the EU provide mechanisms for protecting designs via an unregistered right. In contrast with the similarity of the rules that underpin registered design rights in the UK and EU there are some significant differences between unregistered design rights in the UK and the EU.

The information provided below is not an exhaustive list of all of the requirements for unregistered design rights and is simply provided to highlight some key differences between the UK and EU.

What is a design?

The definition of what constitutes a design differs between unregistered UK and EU design rights. For the UK, a design relates to shape or configuration (CDPA 1988, s.213(2)) and excludes surface decoration (CDPA 1988, s. 213(3)(c)). This contrasts with the position for EU unregistered design rights (an unregistered Community design) where a “design” can encompass the shape of the product and can also include aspects that may contribute to surface decoration such as contours, colours and texture (CDR, Art 3(a)).

How long does an unregistered design right last?

In the UK and the EU unregistered design rights arise automatically when certain conditions are met.

In the UK a design right lasts for 15 years from the end of the calendar year when the design is first recorded in a design document, or an article is first made to the design, whichever first occurred (CDPA 1988, s. 216(1)(a)). However, this is reduced to 10 years if the design is sold or hired out, within the first 5 years of the design right (CDPA 1988, s. 216(1)(b)).

For an unregistered Community design, the design is protected for a period of 3 years from the date on which the design was first made available to the public within the EU (CDR, Art 11(1)).

Top Tips

Unregistered design rights are not monopoly rights like registered design rights, and there must be copying of a design to provide infringement of an unregistered design right.

To aid in the enforcement of unregistered design rights, it is important to record the creation of designs, including information on the designer and the date that the design was produced and/or made public.

Although not by any means essential, introduction of an intentional flaw into a design can act as a trap to demonstrate a third party has copied your design. For a well-known example from the copyright field I would recommend searching for “Agloe, New York”.


At Scintilla, we help innovative companies get a grip on their intellectual property. Our unique commercial approach combines registration of patents and trade marks with strategic input so that IP can be a springboard for business growth. If you would like to discuss your IP needs, do contact us or book a free initial consultation!