What are design rights?
The appearance of a product may in some cases be protected by Design Law. The rules and regulations governing this are specified in various places.
- You can register a Danish design which will be protected in Denmark under the Danish Design Act. The duration of the protection is 5 years, with the possibility of renewal for up to 25 years. You can obtain the protection by registering with the Danish Patent and Trademark Office.
- You can obtain a Registered Community Design (RCD) in accordance with the EU Design Regulation. The duration of the protection is 5 years, with the possibility of renewal for up to 25 years. You can obtain the protection by registering with the EU authority, OHIM. The protection applies throughout the EU.
- You can obtain an unregistered Community design under article 11 of the EU Design Regulation. The duration of the protection is 3 years, and you obtain it automatically as soon as you have published the design somewhere in the EU. See section 11 (2) of the Design Regulation for more details.
A condition for design protection is that the design is new and of individual character.
In certain situations a product cannot obtain design protection (even though the design is new and has individual character):
- Products or product parts whose appearance is dictated solely by technical considerations cannot be protected. You cannot, for example, protect the design of nuts and bolts, or tools whose appearance is solely due to technical considerations.
- Nor can you design protect products or product parts whose appearance is due to the need to connect it to something else. You cannot for instance protect part of a vacuum hose that looks the way it does because the hose must be connected to the vacuum cleaner.
- Moreover, parts of ‘complex products’ – that is, products such as computers, cars, bikes, etc., whose parts can be replaced so that the product can be disassembled and reassembled – are protected only if a. the parts are visible during the normal use of the product, and b. the parts that are visible during normal operation are themselves new and individual. See section 4 of the Design Act and section 4 of the Design Regulation for more details.
Design law provides an exclusive right to commercial exploitation of the design, so it will among other things require permission from the designer to put the design into production, sell it, etc.
You can read more about design protection at the website of the Danish Patent and Trademark Office, www.dkpto.dk.
Researchers’ design rights
Sometimes research results in products that can be protected by design law. The question then becomes whether the researchers themselves hold the design rights, or whether the rights pass to the research institution or enterprise where they are employed.
If the design is an expression of creative art, reflecting an aesthetic choice by the researcher, the design can be protected by design law as well as copyright law. In this case, the question of the extent to which the institution obtains a share of the design rights is decided under the rules and regulations about copyright of works created during employment. See Research and copyright.
If the design does not involve actual creative, original art, the design rights will in principle be assigned to the institution or enterprise by which the researcher is employed, due to the employment relationship.