Designs protect the shape and appearance of a range of products ranging from artistic works such as sculptures, industrial products, fashion items, consumer goods, automotive components, furniture, building structures, clothing items, and packaging.
Almost any product which incorporates some element of original design is potentially protectable by designs law.
Although most countries of the world have a protection regime for dealing with industrial or commercial consumer designs, in general, design law is not unified across different countries of the world.
In Europe, design rights can be divided into two categories: Unregistered rights, where there is no official registration system, and Registered rights, where the rights are registered with a national patent office or regional industrial property office.
In general, unregistered rights grant a lower degree of protection with a higher burden of proof for enforcement, compared with registered rights. Therefore, even where unregistered rights exist it is almost always advisable to apply to register a design, to achieve a stronger form of right, for a longer duration.
In Europe, there are some exceptions as to what can be protected by design rights. These exceptions center around features of design which are intended to match or fit other commercial products, or which are dictated solely by their function.
Generally, the scope of design right is judged relative to other previously known designs in the same design field. Consequently, where a new design is a significant departure from previous designs, a relatively wider scope of protection can be expected than where a design is an incremental improvement over a large body previously existing designs. Nevertheless, even in congested design field such as the design of sanitary fittings, taps, faucets and the like, it is still possible for innovative designers to build up a formidable portfolio of registered and unregistered design rights to establish a strong intellectual property position in the market place, at reasonable cost.