Last updated: 
1 March 2016

Is your design responsible for the overall appearance of a product? Overall appearance can include the shape, configuration, pattern and ornamentation which, when applied to a product, give it a unique visual appearance.

A design does not protect the way a product works.

If you're looking to protect the way a product works or to distinguish your business, perhaps you are after another type of intellectual property.

  • A trade mark distinguishes your business from other traders and can be done in a visual way. A type of trade mark that can be confused with a design is a shape trade mark. This is a three dimensional shape used to distinguish the goods or services of one trader from those of other traders.
  • A patent protects inventions and new processes – how something works or functions.

Deciding if you own the design

To be entitled as an owner of a design you can be:

  • the person who conceived the design (such as the designer)
  • the employer of the designer, if the designer made the design while working for you
  • the person who contracted the designer to make the design
  • the person to whom the designer has assigned the design in writing.

Where two or more people own interests in a design, they must apply jointly.

The owner may be an individual, a company, an association or a partnership. However, if applying as a company, association or partnership, do not apply using a trading name or a trust.

Before you apply

Before deciding to apply for a design right you should:

•search widely online to avoid infringing someone else’s IP
•ensure you own the IP you think you do, particularly if it has been produced by contractors
•consider IP insurance
•educate staff on their obligations and where necessary have them sign confidentiality agreements.

IP can be a complex area and there are a range of IP professionals who can provide advice.