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Information: Graphic Designs

Graphic Designs

A brief summary of the relevant forms of protection currently available for graphic designs.


The principal form of protection for artistic works is copyright, which arises automatically with the creation of an original design. No formalities (such as registration) are necessary to establish or secure it; there are no fees to pay. It is however advisable to mark the drawings etc, and printed version with the standard copyright notice: © + the name of the copyright owner + year of creation.

Copyright arises in original graphic works (e.g. paintings, drawings, maps, charts and diagrams), collages and sculptures, photographs – all irrespective of artistic merit; typefaces; and works of surface decoration (pattern or ornament).

To qualify for copyright, a work must be original to its creator (i.e. not a copy of something else) and to involve a sufficient degree of skill and labour. There is no copyright in an idea or concept, but only in the physical expression (the sketch or computer-produced drawing, for example) of an idea or concept.

Copyright protection in artistic works not reproduced industrially and in graphic designs lasts for the lifetime of the creator and for 70 years afterwards. Copyright in designs for surface decoration, typefaces and artistic works reproduced industrially lasts for 25 years.


Marks which distinguish the goods or services of one trader from those of others in the same line of business may be registered as trade marks.

Under the 1994 Trade Marks Act a trade mark may be a word, or a symbol, or a combination of the two; a shape (of goods or their packaging); or for example an advertising slogan. The fundamental requirement is that the design is distinctive and functions as a distinguishing mark. It is possible to register logotypes by this means.

Trade marks last initially for ten years and may be renewed every ten years thereafter. Provided they remain in use and are carefully managed, trade marks last indefinitely.

Further information, including details of fees payable, may be obtained at or contact the Intellectual Property Office on 0300 300 2000 or e-mail [email protected] . Helpful information can also be obtained from the Chartered Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys at or from the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys at


Graphic designs are potentially covered also by the “passing off” area of the law, which has been shown by decisions of the courts to be a strong form of protection in cases where a reputation has been clearly established.


Since this is a complex and specialised area of the law, anyone intending to go into business involving exploitation of their own, or other people’s original work is strongly advised to take expert legal guidance to establish the position applying to their particular circumstances.


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