General aspects of design right

What is design right?

A right to a design is an industrial property right which protects the appearance of a product or part of a product. The object of protection can only be the appearance of the product; technical ideas that can be put into industrial use can, instead, obtain patent or utility model protection. The appearance of a design is the overall impression of its lines, contours, colours, shape, texture or materials.

The object of protection is always a concrete article or part of it. Design protection, for example, can be obtained for a hammer, a book shelf, a package, a tie, a bun, scissors, or the cap of a bottle. Also a non-separable part of a product can obtain protection. A non-separable part of a product means a part or a detail of an article which cannot be disassembled from the product without breaking it. Such parts or details are for example the pattern of a cloth, the bottom end of a bottle, or a coffee cup handle. Because the object of protection has to be a concrete item, e.g. directions for use or interior designs cannot be protected. However, there are no requirements whatsoever as to the artistic effect.

Obtaining a design right under the Finnish national law requires that the design be registered. Registration authority is the Finnish Patent and Registration Office (PRH).

Exclusive right to a design

Design right confers its owner, with certain exceptions listed below, the exclusive right to use the design. Others may use the design only with the owner's permission. The use of a design means, among other things, the making, offering, putting on the market, using, importing, exporting or stocking for these purposes of a product which matches the design or in which the design is incorporated.

The rights conferred by a design right do not cover:

  • private use of the design, if it takes place for non-commercial purposes;
  • use of the design for experimental purposes; nor
  • acts of reproduction for the purposes of making citations or of teaching, provided that such acts are compatible with fair trade practice and do not unduly prejudice the normal exploitation of the design, and that mention is made of the source.

In addition, the rights conferred by a design right do not cover the equipment on ships and aircraft registered in another country when these temporarily enter into the country, the importation into the country of spare parts and accessories for the purpose of repairing such craft, nor the execution of repairs on such craft.

Furthermore, it must be observed that a design right does not give its owner the right to deny the use of an article protected by design right if the article has been put on the market within the European Economic Area by the owner of the design right or with his consent. This so-called consumption of a design right does not apply to manufacture of products.

Features not protected by design right

Technically determined parts
Design right cannot be granted to features of appearance of a product which are solely dictated by its technical function. This refers to such features which for technical reasons cannot be implemented in any other way.

Designs of interconnections
In addition, protection cannot be granted to such features of appearance of a product which must be reproduced in their exact form and dimensions in order to permit the product in which the design is incorporated, or to which it is applied to, to be mechanically connected to or placed in, around or against another product so that either product may perform its function. An example of this is the joint between the brush and the shaft of an electric toothbrush.

Design right can, however, be granted to a design which allows multiple assembly or connection of mutually interchangeable products within a modular system. For example, the knots and the recesses of a Lego® block are such component parts which can obtain design protection.

Time of validity of a registration

Registration of a design is valid for five years, starting from the day on which the application for registration was made, and it may be renewed for four further periods of five years. Thus, the maximum term of protection is 25 years.

If the design is a component part of a complex product and is used to restore the original appearance of the complex product, the maximum term of protection is nevertheless 15 years.

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Latest update 09.01.2014