Design Rights



The 1988 Copyright Act effectively abolished Copyright in Industrial Products that were drawn after 1st August 1989, except where these can be regarded as works of artistic craftsmanship or of sculpture; although it still protects the drawings per se e.g. from unauthorised reproduction of them.

The 1988 Act introduces a new Design Right which is a largely similar protection. However, it has the following features:-

  • It lasts for ten years; although licences have to be granted if asked for during the second five years;
  • It comes into existence not only from design documents (i.e. drawings), but also from prototypes;
  • It does not cover features which “must fit” or “must match” features of other articles;
  • Drawings and models made by nationals foreign to the UK and EEC countries do not attract design right.

The Design Right will continue the situation that products can be copied with impunity in restricted circumstances only.

It is prudent to mark products:-

Design and Copyright Reserved

© (ABC) Engineers Ltd 1990

The second line is the international copyright notice. 1990 is the year of first publication of the design and gives competitors information as to the end of the ten-year design right.



The European Union provides a short-term unregistered design protection.

Designs attract automatic protection if they are new, and have individual character. The criterion of ‘new’ is strictly applied – the design must not have been made available to the public anywhere in the world before the date on which the design was first made available to the public by the proprietor. However, the criterion of individual character is not onerous. An informed user must find the overall impression created by the design to be different from other design available to the public.

Features that are designed solely for the product’s technical function or need to fit with other parts are not covered by design right protection.

European design right lasts for three years from the design first being made available to the public by the proprietor.

The protection prevents copying of the design, but not to independent design.



Most other countries do have a form of protection known as Design Right. Instead, protection for industrial designs is achieved through copyright.

If you have a question relating to protection in a specific country, please contact the office.