Designs, Copyright & Patents

Designs, Copyright & Patents


An important and significantly under utilised area of intellectual property protection are registered and unregistered designs.

Design rights can cover a wide range of items including not only three dimensional objects such as furniture, packaging and equipment, but also textile designs, clothing, logos, sculptures and all sorts of other product designs.

Unlike patents that cover inventions and processes, design rights are all about the shape or appearance of something.

Like trademarks, there are some limited legal protections available for unregistered designs, but registration ensures that designs enjoy the best possible protection.

Unregistered designs in the UK benefit from the following protections provided they are new and original at the time of creation. UK unregistered designs can enjoy protection over the shape of products, but not the surface decoration. This type of protection can last for up to 15 years from the time the design is created, but only protects against copying and does not cover designs that are independently created.

Registered Designs can currently be registered under either just the UK registered design scheme, or as a Registered Community Design to cover all EU member states including the UK. Once a design is registered it can provide the owner with protection for up to 25 years, subject to renewal every five years.

We can assist with the registration, licensing and enforcement of design rights, and are happy to discuss any questions that you might have.


Of all the different types of intellectual property rights, probably the most crucial for modern businesses is copyright. It covers not just the written word and images, but software, music, films, audio recordings, website content, brochures, manuals and artistic work of all kinds.

Unlike other types of intellectual property that require some sort of official registration in order to gain protection, in the UK copyright arises automatically whenever an original work is created that falls within the scope of copyright law.

Normally copyright will belong to the creator of the relevant work, but that is not always the case and it is important when a business is commissioning or being commissioned to create a copyright work to clarify with the other party who will own the copyright. For example, work that is created by an employee will usually belong to their employer, whilst work created by a contractor or consultant will usually not. Copyright may also be shared amongst two or more people when a group of people work collaboratively, which can make exploiting individual rights complex.

Although copyright provides a very broad and powerful level of protection, there are certain areas that it does not cover. Most notably, copyright provides protection for the way in which an idea or artistic work is expressed, but does not protect the idea itself. The protection of commercial ideas is where patents come in. Likewise, copyright is not the means by which to protect business names. That is the domain of registered trademarks, which is the means by which the exclusive protection of a name or brand can be secured.

The period of time that copyright protection lasts for depends on the type of work involved. Literary, musical, dramatic, and artistic works are protected for 70 years from the end of an author’s lifetime. Sound, film and broadcast recordings are protected for 50 years, and typographical arrangements are protected for 25 years.

Since copyright gives the owner certain exclusive legal rights to exploit a creative work, those rights are capable of being licensed to third parties that wish to use them, and can also be infringed as a result of unauthorised use. Especially in the internet age, properly licensing copyright, and dealing with copyright infringement are important issues for any business, and we are able to guide you through all of the issues, and help take a commercial and pragmatic approach to issues of copyright licensing and infringement.

Often authors will wish to establish their rights of creation by depositing a manuscript or copy of a work with us so they can prove their rights as creator if this is challenged in the future, and this is a service we can offer. It is also good practice to place on any copyright work the © symbol accompanied by the name of the creator and the year of creation, although this is not strictly necessary.


Patents are the most complex area of intellectual property protection, and patent registration can be a time consuming and costly process, making it essential to obtain good advice from the outset.

A patent gives the owner the right to exclusively use an invention, and license or prevent others from doing so in a country in which a patent is registered.

Patent rights can last for up to 20 years, but it can take many years to register a patent.

As with other forms of registered intellectual property, patents can be registered in a single country or across multiple countries depending on the requirements of the owner.

Patents must embody an idea that has not previously been known, and must be capable of industrial application. Patents must therefore be capable of working, and one cannot register a patent for a fanciful idea such as time travel – unless of course you really have worked out how to do it.

We work closely with patent agents around the world to register and enforce patents both nationally and internationally.