Unregistered design rights protect the shape or configuration of a marketable product, they are used to prevent unauthorised copying of an original design.
Design rights are seperate to copyright, although they may cover similar ground.
In the UK unregistered design rights have been available since 1989, the EC though has been slower to incorporate them into its Intellectual Property system waiting until 2002.
Like copyright unregistered design rights are automatic. BUt as per copyright it can be hard to prove the date and content of the work.
Duration of unregistered design rights:
EC – 3 years from the point the design is first made available to the public.
UK – 10 years from the end of the calander year in which the design was first made into a marketable product, but there is also a limit of 15 years from the end of the calendar year in which the design was first recorded in a tangible form.
The UK 10 year period is split into two 5 year periods, in the first five years the rights holder enjoys exclusive rights but in the second 5 year period other parties are allowed to apply for licenses.