Copyright, Unregistered Designs & Trade Secrets

In certain circumstances, formal applications or registrations may not be required to protected your intangible assets. Copyright protection and unregistered designs automatically arise when your work is created. Trade secrets can be an effective way to protect commercial know-how by keeping it out of the public domain. 

  • Strategic Advice
  • IP Audits
  • Strategy
  • Enforcement
  • Client Training 
  • Due Diligence 

Copyright and unregistered design right were embodied as part of an important piece of IP legislation in the 1980s; the Copyright, Designs and Patent Act 1988. An unregistered design comes into existence the moment the design has been created.  It protects the shape and build of an item and is independent of copyright, which is a right that typically protects artistic, literary or musical works. So any drawings, pictures or written work associated with an unregistered design are covered by copyright; it is the shape and form of the design that is covered by unregistered design right.

In order to claim infringement for an unregistered design, you will need to show that the unique features of the design have been copied. Unregistered design rights last for 15 years from the date the right was first written in a document or a product was first made to the specifications of design, whichever is earliest.

If products made to the design are put on sale  within the first five years of the design being first created, then the design right lasts for only 10 years from the date of first sale.

The Intellectual Property Act 2014 weakens the protection to be had by unregistered designs so if you are considering this form of protection, please speak to us. It is not an absolute form of IP protection so it may not be appropriate for your business needs and we can advise you fully on the pros and cons of such a right.


Copyright is an unregistered right that exists automatically when you create original work. It typically covers areas that are not traditionally covered by unregistered design right. Copyright doesn’t protect ideas, but their independent expression. We can help you with all aspects of copyright protection and enforcement on works as diverse as publications and images, in traditional media and online.

Unlike getting patents issued, or when you register a design, there’s no formal ‘copyrighting procedure’. So everything to do with copyright is simple? Well, actually, no. In fact there are lots of things we can do to protect your copyright and to help you understand copyright legislation so you keep out of trouble.

From advice on using the copyright symbol (©) to stopping global copyright infringement, we de-stress this complex legal field to give you peace of mind and protect your interests.

Unregistered Designs

An unregistered design right is automatically created when your design is, giving it some basic legal protection. It is narrower in scope than a registered design right; it is only infringed if a competitor produces something that copies it exactly.  If you own an unregistered design right, you may also be able to prevent certain activities regarding the copy, such as sales, imports and possession.

Please speak to us if you are considering unregistered design as a method of protection. Whilst it may be free and a valid legal right for your product, it is important to consider whether more secure and safe forms of protection, such as a patent or registered design, are more appropriate.

Trade Secrets

In business, as in the rest of your life, if you say you’ll keep a secret, you must. Divulging a secret in normal life may lose you a friend, in business it can have serious, far-reaching legal, financial and commercial consequences.

Sometimes you might think that proprietary business knowledge that gives you competitive advantage is best kept out of the public domain altogether, even to the extent that you do not wish the details to be published in a patent or other legal IP right. This is known as a trade secret. It requires very careful and robust management processes and we can advise you on how best to do this, should you want to have trade secrets

Strategic advice on copyright & unregistered rights

As well as proactive advice and action to maximise the value of your copyright and unregistered design rights, we offer wide-ranging support with all areas of intellectual property law, including the following:

  • Copyright and copyright law
  • Copyright infringement
  • Unregistered design rights
  • Copyright/unregistered copyright
  • Trade secrets


Legal agreements

The scope of our advice extends beyond merely ‘how to copyright a name’ or ‘how to protect an idea’. From time to time, you may wish to assign copyright or other intellectual property rights, or someone may want to assign copyright to you. You may also need non-disclosure agreements when you are discussing proprietary information with a third party.

When this happens, we’re here to draft suitable legal agreements – or get an experienced copyright lawyer to check agreements before signature.


Where possible, as with protecting a registered design or other IP, we prefer early preventive intervention to stop copyright infringement or unregistered design. However, if a more robust stance is required to protect your interests, we have considerable practical experience with all aspects of IP enforcement.

Are you unsure about a point of copyright  law? Or maximising the commercial value of your copyright and design registration? Or maybe you suspect someone of infringing your copyright or unregistered design? Whatever your concerns about this aspect of intellectual property, a no-obligation initial consultation will help.


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