Frequently Asked Questions: Industrial Designs

Basics

In a legal sense, 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 color.

In principle, the owner of a registered industrial design or of a design patent has the right to prevent third parties from making, selling or importing articles bearing or embodying a design which is a copy, or substantially a copy, of the protected design, when such acts are undertaken for commercial purposes.

Industrial designs are applied to a wide variety of products of industry and handicraft items: from packages and containers to furnishing and household goods, from lighting equipment to jewelry, and from electronic devices to textiles. Industrial designs may also be relevant to graphic symbols, graphical user interfaces (GUI), and logos.

In most countries, an industrial design needs to be registered in order to be protected under industrial design law as a “registered design”. In some countries, industrial designs are protected under patent law as “design patents ”.

Industrial design laws in some countries grant – without registration – time- and scope limited protection to so-called “unregistered industrial designs”.

Depending on the particular national law and the kind of design, industrial designs may also be protected as works of art under copyright law.

Industrial design rights are granted for a limited period. The duration of the protection of industrial designs varies from country to country, but it amounts at least to 10 years. In many countries, the total duration of protection is divided into successive renewable periods.

Industrial design rights are usually enforced in a court, generally on the initiative of the owner of the rights, as provided for by the applicable law. The remedies and penalties vary from country to country and could be civil (injunctions to desist from an infringement, payment of damages, etc.), criminal or administrative.

An industrial design right protects only the appearance or aesthetic features of a product, whereas a patent protects an invention that offers a new technical solution to a problem. In principle, an industrial design right does not protect the technical or functional features of a product. Such features could, however, potentially be protected by a patent. Find out more about patents.

Applying for industrial design protection

Depending on the applicable laws, independently created industrial designs must fulfil some or all of the following criteria: novelty/originality.

The assessment of novelty and originality varies from country to country. In general, an industrial design is considered to be new or novel if it has not previously been disclosed to the public and it may be considered original if it significantly differs from known designs or combinations of known design features.

Industrial design registrations or design patents are granted by the IP office of the country (or region) where an application is filed. View a list of national/regional IP offices.

Depending on the applicable law, you may file an application for the registration of an industrial design or for the grant of a design patent yourself or you may be required to appoint an agent.

As the costs for filing for protection vary from country to country, it is best to contact your national (regional) IP office for details on the fee structure. If protection abroad is sought, in addition to the ordinary filing fees, you should take into account the translation costs and the costs of using a local agent.

View a list of national/regional IP offices.

Industrial design rights are territorial. This means that these rights are limited to the country (or region) where protection is granted.

At present, no “world” or “international” industrial design right exists.

In general, in order to obtain protection in other countries, an application for the registration of an industrial design or for the grant of a patent for an industrial design must be filed in each country where protection is sought, in accordance with the law of that country. In other words, if protection is sought in countries A and B, an application should be filed with the intellectual property (IP) office of country A and another application with the IP office of country B.

To avoid having to submit applications in each and every country where protection is sought, WIPO’s Hague System provides a practical business solution for registering up to 100 designs in a large number of territories – all through one single international application. Find out more about the Hague System.

In certain regions, it is also possible to obtain protection for industrial designs in the region concerned by filing an application with a regional IP office. This is the case in the African Intellectual Property Organization (OAPI), which registers industrial designs in states party to the Bangui Agreement; the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO), which registers industrial designs in states party to the Lusaka Agreement; the Benelux Office for Intellectual Property (BOIP), which registers industrial designs in the three “Benelux” countries; and the Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market (trademarks and designs) (OHIM), which registers industrial designs in the member states of the European Union.

An application for the registration of an industrial design or for the grant of a patent for an industrial design can be filed with the intellectual property (IP) office of the country (or region) in which protection is sought. We recommend that you consult our directory of IP offices to find the relevant office.

Alternatively WIPO’s Hague System for the International Registration of Industrial Designs provides a practical business solution for registering up to 100 designs in a large number of territories through filing one single international application. Find out more about the Hague System.

Timing is very important. Taking into account the novelty and/or originality requirement for industrial designs in most legislation, it is in general crucial to file an application for registration or for the grant of a patent before publicly disclosing it, so as to avoid destroying its novelty/originality.

If the industrial design has already been disclosed to the public (for example, by an advertisement published on the company’s website), it may no longer be considered as “new” or “original” and may become part of the public domain. Some countries, however, allow for a “grace period” to file after disclosure of the industrial design. Such a period provides a safeguard for applicants who have disclosed their industrial design before filing an application. Such a “grace period” is usually 6 or 12 months.

Intellectual property offices may make online databases of industrial design/patent for industrial design registrations available. Consult our directory of IP offices.

WIPO Lex provides easy access to intellectual property legislation from a wide range of countries and regions as well as to treaties on intellectual property.

Many national or regional intellectual property offices also provide information concerning national or regional legislation on their websites. View a list of links to national and regional intellectual property offices to find out more.

Industrial designs and business

Industrial designs make a product attractive and appealing to customers. Design drives consumer’s choice: the appearance of a product can be a key factor in the consumer’s purchase decision. In other words, the success or failure of a product may rest, at least partially, on how it looks. Industrial designs can therefore be very important for both small- and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and larger companies alike, regardless of their sector of activity.

The protection of industrial designs should form an integral part of any business strategy. The main reasons to protect industrial designs are the following:

  • Return on investments: Protection contributes to obtaining a return on investments made in creating and marketing attractive and innovative products.
  • Exclusive rights: Protection provides exclusive rights for at least 10 years, so as to prevent or stop others from commercially exploiting or copying the industrial design.
  • Strengthen brands: Industrial designs can be an important element of a company’s brand. Protecting industrial designs contributes to protecting a company’s brand.
  • Opportunity to license or sell: Protection provides rights that may be sold or licensed to another enterprise, which will then be a source of income for the owner of the rights.
  • Positive image: Protection helps convey a positive image of a company, since industrial designs are business assets which may increase the market value of a company and its products.
  • Reward: Protecting industrial designs rewards and encourages creativity.

If you don’t protect your industrial design(s) then it follows that you may not enjoy exclusive rights to them. Consequently, your competitors may take a product to market, incorporating your industrial design, without getting your permission.

So if a competitor or anyone else makes, sells or imports products bearing or embodying a design which is a copy (or substantially copy) of your industrial design without your consent, you will have no legal means to fight them. Moreover, it is likely that copies of the industrial design will be sold at a lower price as competitors do not have to recoup the investments made in the creative process. This could reduce your market share for the product in question and be harmful both to your firm’s reputation and to that of your products.

More questions?

If you couldn't find an answer to your question on this page or through the Industrial Designs homepage, then feel free to contact us.

Disclaimer: The questions and answers provided on this page serve a purely informative purpose and are not a legal point of reference. They do not necessarily represent the official position of WIPO or its member states.