Protection for incremental improvements for designs

At a glance

Policy ID: 121

Status: Consultation

Priority: High

Design rights

Issue summary

Protection under the Designs Act 2003 is for the overall visual appearance of a product. This means that designers need an effectively completed design before they can make use of the design rights system. A recurring theme that emerged through IP Australia’s recent review of the design economy was that for many designers the linear design registration system is incompatible with the incremental nature of the design process, which involves research and development, testing and refining their design before it is ready for market.

This incompatibility frequently creates difficulties for businesses seeking to develop a protection strategy, particularly in the timing of when to apply for design protection. Applying for protection early risks going to market with a design that is either not optimised and/or has iterated and is out of step with what’s protected, whereas waiting to apply for protection risks disclosure and compromising any protection at all.

Furthermore, many designers find the cost of protection itself a barrier, especially when combined with the issue that what they’re protecting may not be the final product. Some level of cost-effective protection during the development process might enable designers to spend more time innovating, leading to better design in the marketplace.


  • Consultation 1 February 2021


IP Australia is consulting on proposed changes to Australia’s designs system for a more modern and accessible design rights system that drives innovation and delivers greater benefits to the Australian economy. 

The consultation covers three topics:  

  • Virtual designs — the protection of virtual, non-physical and active-state state designs (including screen displays, screen icons and graphical user interfaces [GUIs]) 
  • Partial designs — the protection of only part of a product made in one piece, and  
  • Incremental designs — the protection of designs as they move through incremental improvements as the design process progresses. 

Find out more about the consultation and have your say at

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