What Is A Design?

A design right is an intellectual property (IP) exclusive right that protects the aesthetic or ornamental appearance of a product, which may consist of three-dimensional features, such as the product or package’s shape, or two-dimensional features, such as its patterns, lines, or colors. A variety of industrial or handicraft items can be protected as designs, including packages and containers, furnishing and household goods, lighting equipment, electronic devices, and textiles, among many others. In some jurisdictions, graphical user interfaces are also eligible for design protection.

In most jurisdictions, designs can be protected as “registered designs.” In some jurisdictions, notably the United States, industrial designs can receive “design patent” protection under the patent law. In the European Union (EU), besides the registration available at the national level, a design can be registered with the EU Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) as a “Registered Community Design,” which is valid in all countries of the EU. International registration of designs with the World Intellectual Property Office (WIPO) is also available in those countries and intergovernmental organizations that have acceded to the Hague Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Industrial Designs (the Hague Agreement). In some jurisdictions, designs can also be legally protected as “unregistered industrial designs.” The protection of unregistered designs is more limited in time and scope than that for registered designs.

Our Position

We support design protection, in conjunction with other IP rights, particularly trademarks. To spur innovation and creativity, IP rights owners should be free to pursue any and all available sources of protection, in the form of designs, trademarks, and other IP rights.

Registration of designs is a powerful tool in IP protection and enforcement and a useful means to protect the form of products, especially given that three-dimensional trademarks are not registrable in many countries.

In line with our core mission of promoting the harmonization of trademark and related rights, we encourage countries and intergovernmental organizations to accede to the Hague Agreement. The Hague System, established under the Agreement, allows for the protection of industrial designs in multiple jurisdictions with minimal formalities. We further encourage countries and intergovernmental organizations acceding to the Hague Agreement to enact implementing legislation on the registration and enforcement of design rights.

We have developed Model Design Law Guidelines and Guidelines for Examination of Industrial Designs, adopted, respectively, in November 2017 (updated in November 2019) and November 2018. These guidelines serve as a baseline standard by which we analyze and comment on national and regional design laws, regulations, and IP office practices.

If you want to learn more about Designs, contact Member Operations.