Registered designs (also called utility models) protect the appearance, in other words the external shape and color of products manufactured industrially or manually. These products may be, for example, items of clothing, furnishings, utensils of all kinds, machines, and vehicles, or graphic symbols. Furthermore, parts of products can also be protected as registered designs, such as the casing of a smartphone or the fastener of a bag.
The holder of a registered design enjoys a monopoly on the appearance for a certain period of time. Only the holder has the right to use the design and can prohibit use by third parties. This is provided that the design does not infringe any prior rights of others. This must be proven in each individual case and is not fulfilled by registration alone. Thorough research is therefore recommended before the application is filed.
When products hardly differ from each other in terms of function, an attractive product design becomes especially important. This is why protecting the design against plagiarism and copying is crucial for economic success.
Design protection essentially arises as a purely formal right through registration in the register of the German Patent and Trademark Office (DPMA). The extent to which the design is then also legally valid and fulfils the protection requirements of novelty and individual character must be clarified in the event of a dispute. It is therefore important to check the protection requirements of novelty and individual character even before applying for a design. It is equally important to precisely define the design’s scope of protection in the application.
As the holder of a registered design, you have an exclusive right of use. You can take action against any design that does not give a skilled user a different overall impression than your registered design. Registration results in a monopoly on the appearance in the entire territory of the Federal Republic of Germany for a limited period of time. The term of protection is initially five years from the date of application and can be extended a maximum of four times to 25 years. The annual fees must be paid on time and in full to maintain your design protection.
If you want to protect your design beyond the Federal Republic of Germany in the member states of the European Union or other countries, you have the option of applying for an EU-wide Community design or registering your design internationally.