By means of an industrial design, aesthetical creations can be protected which are excluded from patent and utility model protection. On the basis of German Design Law (GeschMG, Link), registered two or three dimensional forms of appearance of, for example, a product or part of a product as a graphical symbol, a pattern of cloth or wall paper, bottles, lights or even the shape of a steel profile are protected.
For achieving industrial design protection, filing of the design with the German Patent and Trademark Office is necessary. Also with respect to a design, this IP right also is an unexamined one which only might possibly be examined subsequent to application and registration with respect to its protectability during infringement or cancellation proceedings.
However, requirements for protectability of an industrial design, are on the one hand, novelty which means that no identical design should be known to domestic experts or expert groups prior to its first application. Nevertheless, also for an industrial design, there exists a twelve months grace period as to novelty, i.e., a product which has been published by the applicant or his legal precursor within twelve months prior to application is not novelty-destroying for the design. On the other hand, an industrial design should possess originality, i.e., the overall impression which is conveyed to the informed user should be distinguished substantially from the overall impression which is conveyed to the informed user by another design. Moreover, the design must qualify as a model which means that it should be suitable as a prototype for the manufacture of commercial products, and, therefore, should be complete, realizable, and reproductible.
For describing the subject-matter to be applied for, generally a photo or drawing of the design or model should be filed with the German Patent and Trademark Office. In this respect it should be born in mind that only matter which can be seen on the photo or drawing is protected. In exceptional cases, also the model itself can be submitted to the German Patent and Trademark Office. When filing an industrial design, also the relevant goods should be designated.
Also an industrial design – just like a patent or utility model – can be transferred to other persons either completely or restricted, for example, by selling it.
An industrial design may also be protected as a work of art under copyright law, and under certain circumstances an industrial design may also be protectable under unfair competition law.
Maximum protection period of an industrial design is restricted to 25 years starting at the application date.
Community Design (EU)
A Community design or rather a European community design can either be filed for with the Office For Harmonization of the Internal Market located in Alicante, Spain (registered Community design) or can be achieved as an unregistered Community design without filing an application. A Community design – either unregistered or registered – covers all countries of the European Union.
Regulations relevant for registered Community designs are stipulated in the Council Regulation (EC) nº 6/2002 of 12 December 2001 on Community Designs. Formal requirements for filing a Community design basically correspond to the ones of a German design.
International registration of an industrial design is governed by the World Intellectual Property Organization in Geneva. Regulations for filing and registration of an international design are stipulated in the Hague Agreement concerning the International Registration of Industrial Designs .