Design Rights

Service overview: Unregistered design rights and registered design rights

  • There are two types of design right: unregistered design rights and registered design rights.
  • Each of these types of right exist in the UK and the EU, which also currently includes the UK. The European Commission launched a review of EU design right legislation in 2019, which remains on-going.
  • Unregistered design rights arise automatically in certain circumstances (where the design is original and non-commonplace). In the UK, this right is only applicable to 3D designs and protects the shape and configuration of objects.
  • Registered design rights are rights that have been obtained through registration with a relevant authority such as the Intellectual Property Office (IPO), and offer a higher level of protection than unregistered rights. The appearance of a product can be protected, including the shape, colours, materials, texture and lines. In order to qualify for registration, a design must be new. Registration can protect both 3D and 2D designs.
  • In the UK, unregistered design rights subsist for either (i) 10 years after the first marketing of products using the relevant design, or (ii) 15 years after the creation of the design or when the product was first made (if earlier), whichever period expires first. However, EU unregistered design rights are only afforded 3 years’ protection.
  • In comparison, registering a design right gives the owner up to 25 years’ protection in the UK and EU (subject to certain renewal requirements every 5 years).
  • The creator of a design will be the owner of it, unless the design is created as part of that person’s employment. Therefore, it is important to ensure that ownership rights are appropriately addressed in the terms of engagement between a company and any person creating designs on its behalf that is not an employee.
  • To enforce unregistered design rights requires evidence of copying, whereas there is no such requirement in the context of registered design rights, making registered design rights potentially more straightforward to enforce.
  • Various IP rights may attach to aspects of the same object – for example, whilst design rights may cover the appearance of an object, an invention embodied by the object may be patentable and other elements of the object may be protected by copyright.
  • For further information on design rights in the UK and EU, please refer to our Registered Design Rights FAQs.

What we do: Design rights advice

Our specialist solicitors and EU Design Attorneys provide a full service on design right strategy, registration and enforcement, all within the overall context of your IP strategy.

We will support you to proactively manage your IP portfolio in order to limit and mitigate risk.

We will act swiftly and decisively to prevent unlawful exploitation by issuing cease and desist letters, applying for injunctions and advising in respect of design disputes, as appropriate.

Our design right experts are experienced in drafting clear and effective legal documents relating to ownership and licensing of design rights.

By ensuring that you have first class support in place in relation to IP portfolio management, you will add long-term value to your business in the context of any prospective investment or sale.

Who we help: A wide range of innovative UK-based businesses

We support UK-based businesses in creative industries such as media and entertainment, fashion, design and manufacturing and emerging technologies. We advise a wide range of clients from innovative industries, including market-disruptive companies ranging from university spinouts and start-ups to SMEs and large multi-nationals.

Why choose Harper James Solicitors? Our design rights experience

Our design rights solicitors have a wealth of experience in successful IP strategy, IP exploitation and IP dispute resolution.

We are experienced in identifying, protecting, exploiting and policing clients’ rights under extensive intellectual property portfolios, including in respect of design rights. We can assist you with identifying qualifying designs and advise on the best form of protection,

Our experts have all been recruited from top 100 UK law firms or from large international businesses and have advised clients both as external advisors and as in-house IP/brand management counsel. We are skilled in advising on this complex area of law in a succinct, straightforward and commercial way. Each of our design rights solicitors has more than 13 years’ post-qualification experience. Find out more about the team here:

Pricing plans

Our three transparent pricing packages are designed to give you the widest possible access to high-quality legal advice, whatever the size and nature of your business:


Straightforward access to senior solicitors at a competitive rate.

An affordable solution for businesses needing one-off legal support. Receive ‘City’ partner-level expertise at a fraction of ‘City’ prices.


Have legal peace of mind for £189 per month with additional support from £125 per hour.

A monthly subscription legal support package specifically designed for start-ups and smaller businesses.


Providing you with priority access to a dedicated panel of highly experienced solicitors.

Fully account managed quarterly subscription service for businesses with more complex legal needs.

What our clients say

We pride ourselves on delivering an excellent service for clients, but don’t just take our word for it.

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A national law firm

We mainly work remotely, so we can work with you wherever you are. But we can arrange face-to-face meeting at our offices or a location of your choosing.

Our commercial lawyers are based in or close to major cities across the UK, providing expert legal advice to clients both locally and nationally.

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