Design rights protect the appearance of a product or part of a product.
A product may be any industrially or artisanally produced item, including packaging, graphic symbols, typefaces and parts that are meant to be joint together.
The appearance of a product may, in particular, consist of the lines, contours, colours, shape, texture or materials of the product itself or its decoration.
If the appearance of the product is two-dimensional (e.g. the design on wallpaper), then it is called a “tekening” or “dessin”. If the appearance of the product is three-dimensional (e.g. the shape of a computer), then it is called a “model” or “modèle”. The appearance of a product may also combine both dimensions (the shape of a porcelain set and the designs that decorate it).
What cannot be protected by design rights?
Certain characteristics of a product's appearance are excluded from protection by design rights:
- the characteristics of a product's appearance that are exclusively imposed by its technical function. For example, although the lines and designs of the handle of a razor can be protected by design rights, whereas the shape and gradient of the razor blades, for example, are excluded from protection as they enable the product's technical function, i.e. a close and precise shave. This shaving system could possibly be the subject of a patent :
- the characteristics of a product's appearance required to connect this product to another. This would apply to the shape of an electric plug, in which the placement of the metal pins cannot be protected, as it essentially allows the product to be compatible with another product or the interconnection of different parts within a larger system;
- the characteristics of the appearance of the parts of a complex product that are not visible during the normal use of the product, for example the appearance of screws and bolts inside the product or its mechanism;
- a design that is contrary to public order or good moral standards, for example a design representing a Nazi symbol;
- the characteristics of the appearance of a computer programme.