27 May 2010 Revised 5 April 2017 and 13 Jan 2021

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, 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 ("the IPO") as “registered 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 were protected automatically from copying as “unregistered Community designs” ("UCD") in the UK as well as the EU until 23:00 on 31 Dec 2020.  Such designs are now protected as supplementary unregistered designs in the UK pursuant to art 57 of the Agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community.  

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.

Works of Artistic Craftsmanship
Works of artistic craftsmanship such as the "Arco" lamp designed by Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni are protected as works of artistic craftsmanship (see Jane Lambert Flos Putting us all through the Mill 17 Oct 2014).


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