Trade marks protect you from bandits, out to steal the name of your brand. Patents stop them from reproducing the inner workings of something you’ve invented. But you can also stop them from nabbing the appearance of something you’ve designed, using a creatively titled ‘design’.
Design right is the automatic protection of an original design and holds for 15 years, no application necessary. However, registering your design makes prosecution of any copycats out there far simpler and protects your work for up to 25 years. Sweep out the whole of the EU with a Registered Community Design (RCD) or apply individually to whichever countries you feel you need protection in.
RCDs are something a lot of entrepreneurs are starting to take advantage of. As well as the obvious areas where designs would apply (think textiles, where appearance can outweigh functionality) RCDs and other registrations are being seen in technology. The protection of the appearance of a mobile phone or a tablet as well as its inner workings is important in a world where the consumer’s first impression of the product could easily sway a deal; we’re all drawn to shiny things! The on-going battle between giants Apple and Samsung relies mostly on an Apple RCD, as the qualms are over the shape of a Samsung product and not so much over the technology behind it.
The use of an RCD to back up a registered trade mark is not uncommon if your company has a recognisable logo, as designs can be applied to 2D and 3D objects alike. However if used in conjunction with a patent, to protect both what the product does and how it looks when it’s doing it, be wary of the duration of the patenting process; if ever the design hit the public domain before the patent was granted, you’d have invalidated your patent. Thankfully RCDs are flexible and can be deferred.