The Registered Designs Act 1949 gave rise to design rights for items which are manufactured. This grants protection for a period of 25 years from registration on the basis that the design in question is new and possesses individual character.
The Act makes clear, however, that technical functions and interface features are not capable of protection as design rights.
Section 1C of the Act states that registration may not take place where features are determined “solely by the product’s technical function”. The word “solely” is important here, as a product which is capable of taking on a separate design, thererby giving rise to a different appearance is more likely to be capable of registration.
Section 1C(2) of the Act states that a feature of the design which is required to be of an exact shape so as to fit into, around or against another product to enable the product to function properly is incapable of registration. This does not make the whole of the product incapable of registration, although the interface feature will almost certainly not be registrable.
Section 1C(3) states that section 1C(2) is not applicable where construction or assembly of modular products is required. This removes the problem in relation to tools and furniture which are increasingly modular in design, allowing for the removal and replacement of certain parts. Such designs are, however, still subject to the requirements of novelty and individual character.