Unregistered design rights are a form of IP rights that exist in selected regions, including the UK and the European Union (EU).  As with registered designs, unregistered designs protect only the appearance of a product and not how it functions.  However, there is a significant difference between registered and unregistered design rights.  There is no formal application procedure for unregistered designs and therefore design rights come into effect automatically when a design fulfills specific criteria.

With no formal application process, you won’t incur any upfront costs where unregistered design rights are involved.  You’ll also be able to select which aspect or aspects of the design are most important once you’ve seen the aspects that others are seeking to copy.  In other words, you can use hindsight to inform your decisions.

However, unlike registered designs, an unregistered right does not give you a monopoly right.  Unregistered rights can only be infringed if a third party has actively copied your original design.  As such, to successfully enforce unregistered design rights, you’ll need to provide evidence that someone else has actually copied your work.  The mere fact that the products look alike may not be enough.

Unregistered design rights aren’t available in all countries and where they do exist, rules vary widely.  For example, the UK has two different types of unregistered design rights which vary significantly in what they protect and how they are generated, whilst the EU has only one type of unregistered design right.  Furthermore, both the UK and EU have potentially conflicting requirements for generating the rights, meaning it can be difficult to secure unregistered protection across a wide region.