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Designs collection

Our registered designs collection has its origins in the collections of the UK Patent Office Library, established in the mid 19th century.

Design protection applies to the outward appearance of a product. The Intellectual Property Office provides detailed guidance on design protection in the UK where three forms of design protection are available:

By applying for and being granted a registered design, the creator of a product acquires the right to prevent anyone else in the UK copying or using that design for a period of up to 25 years. A registered design protects only the aesthetic elements of a design, and does not protect any shape or decoration which serves a functional purpose.

Design right offers free automatic protection for the internal or external shape or configuration of an original design for up to 15 years. However it does not protect the two dimensional aspects of a design such as patterns or decoration. On the other hand, it does protect shapes which serve a functional purpose, and so can be used to protect functional elements of a device that are not original or creative enough to deserve a patent.

An artistic design which is not intended for mass production, or a one-off item sculpture or decorative item produced by art or craft, will have automatic copyright protection.

Collection overview

Our collection of registered design documentation consists chiefly of official journals or gazettes issued by national or international intellectual property offices. These publications record details of the designs for which protection has been sought and identify the individuals and/or corporate bodies which have applied for protection. An index by applicant name and by the type of product to which the design will apply may be available.

The collection has its origins in the collections of the UK Patent Office Library, which was established in the mid nineteenth century. Our collection of historical UK design information is very limited as until 1996 these were not published to the general public. In particular, we do not hold any copies of designs themselves prior to this date. Historical British design documents can be searched and viewed at the National Archives.

Since the late nineteenth century we have collected registered design documentation from as many countries as possible. We have also collected documentation from those regional and international authorities through which it is possible to obtain design protection. For many countries our holdings date back to the late nineteenth or early twentieth century. As a result of our long history of international collecting, we have a design information resource of major international importance.

Until the early 1980s most official journals and gazettes were published in hard copy, they provided a description of the designs for which protection was sought and identified the individuals and organisations applying for protection. In many instances some form of index by nature of item and by applicant name was also published. Since the 1980s design documentation has moved to publication in CD/DVD format and more recently to publication online. This shift to online publication will have a significant impact on our future collecting activity and on the shape of the collection.

Using the collection

The information specialists in our Business & IP Centre at St Pancras will help you use the design collection and find out more about how the design system works. They have prepared a brief introduction to designs which you may find useful. The Business & IP Centre also offers an online course on intellectual property and runs a regular workshop Introducing Registered Designs, which is free of charge.

If you want to commission a design search, then our priced Research Service can help.

We can also give you the contact details of other public libraries in the UK which have IP information expertise and can help you with information on designs and design searching.

Our collection of books and journals about designs, design law and design practice can be identified through Explore the British Library.