Design protection relates to the protection of two- or three-dimensional designs and drawings (patterns and the like), i.e. the new outward appearance and originality of the two- or three-dimensional form of a product having a utility function, such as a piece of furniture, a drinking glass, a knitting pattern or a decoration (provided the decoration is on an object). Protection is obtained through an application with the German Patent and Trademark Office. Generally, the design should at the time of filing meet specific novelty and originality requirements.
For protection in Germany, a German design application, a Community design application or a so-called International design application (The Hague Agreement) can be chosen.
An application for a single design is a so-called single application; where an application comprises more than one design (max. of 100 in German and international application) belonging to the same class of products, the application is referred to as a multiple application.
Where the application is a first application, within 6 months of the date of this first application (e.g., German, Community or international), (other) foreign applications can be filed invoking the so-called convention priority. This means that foreign protection starts on the date of filing of a first application. In most countries, an application should be filed within this 6-month priority period, due to novelty requirements.
German, Community or international application?
If (at first) protection is relevant in Germany only, a German application may be preferred to a Community or an international application, in view of the costs involved. It is also possible to file a German application first and to subsequently - within the 6-month priority period - file applications in other countries or file a Community or an international application.
German applications, Community applications, and International applications are subject to formal examination only. No examination is performed with regard to older design rights potentially conflicting with the application under examination. Novelty and originality of a design are only examined in nullity proceedings.
The protection period of a design registration (German, Community or international) is 5 years from the filing date with the option for a total of four renewals every five years. Hence, the maximum term for design protection is 25 years.
In case of an unregistered Community design the protection term is three years.