Copyright is just one form of intellectual property, a catch-all term for creations of the mind such as artistic works, inventions or designs.

It allows artists to reap financial benefits from their own creations and control how others use their work. As well as copyright, there are other intellectual property rights that visual artists should be aware of, which protect intangible properties such as design rights, patents and trade marks.

This factsheet covers the following:

Design rights

There are four types of design right in the UK, and a design can be protected by more than one:
  • Registered Design
  • Unregistered Design
  • Registered Community Design
  • Unregistered Community Design
The Registered Design right protects the outward appearance of a product such as jewellery, clothing or furniture. It protects aspects such as shape, configuration, 3D pattern or ornamentation. To qualify for Registered Design Right protection, the overall impression of a design should be different from any other existing one.

The Unregistered Design right protects the shape or configuration (whether internal or external) of a product. To qualify for protection, a design should be new (in the sense that it has not been copied from an existing design) and should not be commonplace in its field of design at the time it was designed.

Registered Community Design is similar to UK Registered Design, except that it covers the European Union as a whole. It is not possible to limit the geographic scope of protection to certain member states.

Unregistered Community Design is an automatic right which arises without the need for registration.

Further information on design rights can be found on the Anti-Copying in Design (ACID) website.


Patents are granted to protect the rights in inventions. They are obtained in the UK from the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) and are governed by the Patents Act 1977.

In order for a patent to be granted the invention must satisfy a number of requirements:
  1. It must be new, which means that it can never have been made public anywhere in the world at any time before the date of the application.
  2. It must contain an inventive step, meaning that if the invention is compared to what is already known, it would not be obvious to someone with good knowledge and experience of the subject. 
  3. The invention must be capable of industrial application and must therefore be either a product, device or apparatus or an industrial process or method of operation. Furthermore, the invention cannot be one of a number of specific exclusions set out in the Patents Act.

Depending on the procedure used, the inventor may choose to apply for a UK patent, a European patent covering any of the European countries or, under the Patent Co-operation Treaty, a patent in any of the 146 countries (as at June 2012) which are a party to the treaty.

Further information on patents can be found on the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) website.

Trade marks

A trade mark protects a brand name or a logo for goods and services. It functions to indicate to a consumer the origin and trade source of goods and to distinguish the goods and services of one trader from another.

A trade mark must be capable of distinguishing the applicant's goods or services from the goods and services of other businesses.

It is now possible to register words, logos, three dimensional shapes, colours, sounds such as jingles, smells and even concepts and gestures, provided such marks can be represented graphically and distinguish the applicant's goods or services from those of other traders.  

Further information on trade marks can be found on the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) website.

Disclaimer: This factsheet is offered as a general guide to the issues surrounding copyright in this area. It does not represent an exhaustive account. It is not intended to offer legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. We strongly recommend you seek specialist advice for any specific circumstances.