Registered designs have existed in England since the 1830s and were mainly used to protect the designs of fabrics from cheap imported copies. Registered designs now protect the visible, external appearance, during ordinary use of all or part of a product. Registered designs must be new and have individual character. A registered design is new if no identical design or no design whose features differ only in immaterial details has been made available to the public before the relevant date. 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 has previously been made available to the public. A design is considered to be new if no identical design exists in the same sector.
A designer has what is known as a 12 month grace period to show and disclose his design. This will not affect the design’s novelty or the assessment of its individual character in an application for registration by the end of the 12-month period. There is no right to claim for infringement before the design has been granted registration. It is still important to keep evidence of the date of creation of the design for example storing, signing and dating original drawings. Therefore if someone else claimed they had created the design during the 12 month grace period there would be evidence available to refute that claim. Once the design had been registered any such disputes would be resolved by registration if it is valid.