f you take a look around you will see that everything created is designed in some way, from a simple light switch to a complex computer system. Creative design is at the heart of everyday life and covers a wide span of disciplines, including graphic design, computer software design, fashion and product design.

A designer uses their creative skills to evolve an idea into a usable two- or three-dimensional format; it goes hand-in- hand with technology and innovation. Design is the appearance of the whole or a part of a product resulting from the features of the lines, colour, shape, texture, contours, materials and ornamentation. A design has to have individual character: its individuality depends on there being no similar on near-identical designs on the market already.

Good, effective design is a key ingredient in making our lives better, easier and more productive personally, publicly or inthe workplace, and can aesthetically enhance our visual appreciation of the world around us, catering for a myriad of tastes.

In the 21st century, being a talented designer alone is simply not enough – designers need to equip themselves with basic business skills and, above all, be intellectual-property (IP) savvy. Creative skill is not something that many people possess, therefore it has a value. That is why designers lead and others follow.

Part of being a designer involves protecting your creations, so firstly you need to know what rights you have, educate yourself through design organisations such as Anti Copying in Design (Acid).

Designers automatically create unregistered rights as soon as they put their design into a tangible form. Unregistered rights include copyright, which refers to 2D work such as an original book, computer software programme, photograph or trademark. Design rights mainly cover 3D articles such as the product design of furniture, lighting and interior accessories. Unregistered design rights lasts for three years in Europe and approximately 10 years in the UK. After five years in the UK, a third party may apply to use the design but must pay a reasonable royalty.

Both registered and unregistered rights are referred to collectively as Intellectual Property Rights. For stronger legal protection you can apply for a registered design or patent (for inventions) through the UKIPO (formerly the Patent Office, now the UK Intellectual Property Office) or for European cover through OHIM (Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market).

Intellectual property is based on property law and, in the same way that you would have title deeds or a lease for your house, intellectual property is all about ownership and permission to use what you own.

Often when a design has been created, designers do not have either the fiscal or manufacturing capability to drive it forward. Licensing can be an effective and profitable way to capitalise upon your various designs. It is a very useful principle to keep in mind from the time you start creating. By clarifying the basis on which a designer is going to do business with a third party – either by entering into production yourself, charging a one-off fee or through licensing – all commercial relationships should be underpinned by industry-standard legal agreements that have a particular intellectual property focus.

Although some of this may sound complicated, it is very important to protect your hard work and make sure that you are rewarded for all of the excellent design that you can create during your time and career as a working designer.

Dids Macdonald is the chief executive officer of Anti Copying in Design


Anti Copying in Design

Have a look at a summary of your rights


UK Intellectual Property Rights

Educate yourself by checking out some case studies


Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market

Check out what the industry does on a European scale