Design basics

Design is what makes a product look the way it does. It includes:

● shape

● configuration

● pattern and

● ornamentation.

When applied to a product, it gives it a unique appearance.

A design right is a type of intellectual property (IP) to protect designs. It is registered under the Designs Act 2003.

What a design right gives you

Design registration aims to protect designs that have an industrial or commercial use. A registered design gives you, the owner, exclusive rights to commercially use, licence or sell it.

Designs that can't be registered

Some designs can not be legally registered. These include designs for medals, Australian currency and scandalous designs. Integrated circuit layouts are automatically protected by a modified version of copyright.

Protection for artwork is automatically protected by copyright. You do need design protection if your artwork is applied to a product, which gives that product a unique look.

Understanding the time and costs involved

Registering and certifying a design is not just a matter of attaching a picture of the design to an appropriate form and lodging an application. It's often a lengthy, complex and costly process, especially if you're planning on commercialising your design.

A commercial design development and registration process can typically involve as many as five professional advisers or consultants.

They could include such specialists as:

  • an industrial designer
  • a lawyer
  • a marketing consultant
  • a patent attorney
  • an accountant.

These advisers make specific and quite separate contributions to the design development and business establishment process. Advice from all five may be required to successfully complete a design application, registration and commercialisation.

There are also fees directly related to design applications, registrations and maintenance.

See our case study that shows at a glance an ideal journey from start to end for a design right self filer.

Industrial designs

An industrial design constitutes the ornamental or aesthetic aspect of an article.

An industrial design may consist of three dimensional features, such as the shape of an article, or two dimensional features such as patterns, lines or colour. The look, shape and style of the original Apple iPod personal media player is a good example of how a unique design can differentiate one product from a range of others.

The first registered design

On 10 January 1907, Albert Holdsworth of Luxton Road, Hawkesburn, Victoria became the first person in Australia to protect his intellectual property by registering his design for what was effectively a fancy pair of overalls. Holdsworth received a Certificate of Registration of a Design on 29 April 1907 and described his garments as follows: '…the novelty being that the lower part consists of a trouser portion which is fastened to the coat at the back on the inside, whilst the leg parts are slit lengthwise so as to be substantially flat when unfastened, and so that in putting on the garment that part which is to form the trousers is passed through between the legs and then fastened lengthwise down the legs.'

Brief history of designs

Australian designs are protected under the Designs Act 2003 which came into force on 17 June 2004. The new Act was introduced to update existing legislation that dated back to 1906. Under the 1906 Act, all designs were examined and registration only occurred following examination.

The current legislation, Designs Act 2003, assists in the protection of the overall appearance of a product resulting from one or more visual features of the product and takes into account the perspective of the informed user.

Today, approximately 7000 new products are protected by design registrations each year in Australia. These registrations vary from new dress designs through to mobile phones and cars and a range of other objects in between.

More information

Case study: an ideal journey to getting your design right

Professional assistance

Understanding IP

Find out about buying or selling your design

Designs Act 2003

Last updated: 
26 February 2016