A basic guide to IP rights
This guide relates to the protection of intellectual property rights in the UK. Where required, we can advise on options that will allow wider protection in the EU and/or further afield.
Patents protect ‘inventions’. The invention must be new, involve an inventive step and be capable of industrial application. You need to apply to the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO) to gain protection in the UK. If granted, the patent will last for 20 years. Certain ideas cannot be patented.
It is vital that patent applications are made as soon as possible. If they are in the public domain before the application is filed – even by a day – the inventor will be unable to gain patent protection.
The term ‘design’ relates to a product’s appearance: its shape, texture, colour, materials used, contours and ornamentation. To qualify as a new design, the overall impression should be different from any existing design. There are three types of protection for designs, explained below.
Unregistered design rights
This is an automatic right, which protects aspects of shape and configuration of a three-dimensional article. The right exists from the point the design is recorded in a design document or an article is made to the design. The right generally lasts for 15 years. Actions for breach of these rights are often difficult to establish as you have to prove that you hold the right and that deliberate copying has taken place.
Registered design rights
This provides further protection for the appearance of all or part of a product in terms of features such as lines, contours, colours, shape, texture and materials. It covers two-and three-dimensional items and lasts up to 25 years if registered with the IPO (subject to periodic renewal).
More likely to act as a deterrent than unregistered design protection, the right also makes it easier for you to exploit the item e.g. by selling the rights or by licence. You do not have to prove copying in any infringement action.
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Disclaimer: Please note that this fact sheet is for guidance only and is not intended to replace legal advice.