Protecting a design is both simple and complicated. At the most basic level, protection may be available automatically on creating the designs.
The first form of automatic protection is through UK design right, which falls under the umbrella of copyright. However this is limited in several ways and so even if such protection is available for the design in question, it is weaker than the other forms which are available.
The second form is through European Unregistered Design. This is potentially available to a greater range of designs that UK design right but as the period of protection offered is only 3 years, it is still a more limited form of protection.
One of the downsides that affect both of the above forms of automatic protection in fact lies in the fact that they are automatic. This is because the lack of any official record can make it harder to prove that you own the right in the first place. This means that it is still important to think about protecting the design up front as it will be necessary to establish the date on which the design was created for the right to have any weight.
The next level of protection is through registering the design. This can be done on either a UK level or an EU level. The advantage of doing so is that for a relative small cost you gain a certificate which shows the date the design was filed together with the substance of the design. This protection is also potentially available for a longer period, the maximum duration being 25 years although this is dependant on a renewal fee being paid every five years. However it is important to think of this upfront as the application for registration must be made within 12 months of the design being made available to the public. Therefore it is not possible to rely on the automatic forms and then try to change to the registered system once the time limit on these expires.