Registered design rights protect new designs for items of manufacture. Registration of the design gives rise to the exclusive right to use that right for 25 years from registration. Failure to register may give rise to an unregistered design right, although less protection is offered for these than for registered design rights.
The Registered Designs Act 1949 is the piece of legislation which regulates registered design rights. It was amended significantly by the Registered Design Regulations 2001, which implemented European Directive 98/71/EC on the Legal Protection of Design, commonly referred to as the Design Directive.
Section 1(2) of the 1949 Act states that a registered design is made up of “the appearance of the whole or part of a product resulting from the features of, in particular, the lines, contours, shape, texture and/or materials of the product itself and/or its ornamentation.” Section 1(3) states that packaging, graphic symbols and type-faces may be included within the definition of “product”, although computer programs are specifically excluded.
Section 1B contains the key requirements of a registered design, namely that the design must be new and must possess “individual character”. This means that a design which has been available to the public prior to the registration date will defeat the registration application. In addition, a design is considered to possess individual character if an informed user is left with an overall impression which differs from the impression left by any design available to the public before the registration date.