European Community Registered Designs
The Community Design Regulation is now in force. Principal aspects of a Community Registered Design (CRD) are as follows:
Unitary Character - a CRD provides for protection throughout the whole of the EU by way of a single registration. A registration fee and publication fee (or deferred publication fee) are payable upon filing.
Deferment of Publication - CRDs will usually be published once they are registered, but the publication may be deferred for up to 30 months to maintain secrecy of the design if a request for deferment is made upon filing. At the end of the 30 month period the full publication fee will have to be paid or the application will be refused. A note that deferment has taken place will be published in place of the usual publication. Deferment will attract a deferred publication fee and during the deferment period it will not be possible to enforce the registration against a third party unless the registration has been communicated to that party. Deferment can be interrupted at any time upon payment of the publication fee.
Multiple Designs - it is possible to file applications covering more than one design as long as all of the products to which the designs are intended to be applied fall inside the same class designated from the Locarno Design Classification (a revision of this document is currently underway and will be termed the EuroLocarno). There is no upper limit to the number of designs in one application although each design in a multiple application will attract separate fees which are however less than the fees for the first design.
Examination - applications are examined only on formal grounds, and no searching of earlier designs is carried out. There is no opposition provision.
Novelty and Individual Character - a valid design must differ from prior-art designs by more than immaterial details, and it must produce a different overall impression on the informed user. In many cases the informed user is likely to be the end user of the product. A 12 month grace period applies prior to the filing or priority date in which the designer can disclose the design perhaps in order to establish whether the design is commercially viable.
Invalidity - an application for a declaration of invalidity can be filed once a design is registered, provided that if lack of novelty or individual character is alleged on an earlier right the application has to be lodged by the holder of that earlier right.
Term - a CRD can last for 25 years from first filing and renewal fees are payable every 5 years from filing.
Nature of Protection - it is the actual design that is protected rather than a specific product bearing the design. Protection should therefore be available for all products to which the design is applied. At the time of filing however, it is necessary to identify a product for classification purposes, although this will not limit the protection only to the identified product.
Type of Designs - the design may comprise the appearance of the whole or part of the product (including the interior of a product) and may arise from the lines, contours, colours, shape, material or ornamentation of the product. Thus almost any design is likely to be protectable and can include for example graphic items such as logos, advertisements, charts, clothing labels etc. Software producers can register the screen shots of software, which may provide protection for the "look and feel" of such software in addition to computer icons.
Complex Products and Spare Parts - protection is available for such products which comprise products composed of two or more replacement component parts which permit disassembly and re-assembly of the product. Also, the designs of such components can be registered but only if the component parts remain visible during normal use of the complex product. The repair of a complex product so as to restore it to its original appearance by the use of a component part (spare part) does not constitute an infringement of a registration for the component part.
Limitations - a design registration cannot protect features of a design which are solely dictated by the product's technical function, or features which are required to permit the product to be connected to or placed in, around or against another product so that either product may perform its function. However a design which serves the purpose of allowing the assembly of modular parts, such as for example toy building bricks/blocks, may be registered.