IP protection for design businesses in the EU 

Enni Koistinen's illustration

This article is part of #DESIGNIPR, an online guide to making your design business more profitable, more competitive and safer on the international markets with the support of IP rights (IPR). Written by legal adviser of Ornamo Jussi Ilvonen, the online guide gives an overview to markets and law in the EU, US, China and Japan. 

Part 2: IP protection for design businesses in the EU

Intellectual property rights (IPR) legislation, protecting creators’ and other right holders’ intellectual property (IP), such as design, works of art and literature, inventions, computer programs, and different types of identification marks for products and services, is relatively widely harmonized within the EU area with numerous directives and regulations. The slowly but surely progressing IP law harmonisation seeks to, among other things, help businesses and creators sustain a creative profession and establish successful businesses within EU area, both in digital and non-digital environment.

However, there still are many small deviations within EU member states concerning IP protection, so the protection is far from being totally harmonized (perhaps it never will be). Many directives only provide a minimum level of harmonization, which is further implemented via national member state laws. This is important to consider especially, if one is thinking about obtaining IPR protection only in certain EU countries, for example for business strategic reasons. For example: all EU states do not offer utility model protection for technical inventions, e.g. Sweden and Luxemburg.

Another example on differences of IP protection: all EU states do not have a uniform ”treshold of originality” for copyright of design/works of applied art. Copyright cannot be registered in most countries of the world, but instead, a sufficient level of originality is the legal requirement for copyright protection to exist in the first place. This level is primarily set up according to a line of national court cases or expert body decisions. For example, in Denmark, the treshold of originality for design is proven much lower than in Finland. Many times, the reason why a particular design has been seen lacking copyright protection has been the dominating effect of function over form; for example, the creator has come up with a certain type of product design mostly due to functional, instead of purely creative reasons.

Thus, although it is true that in many cases copyright does indeed protect design, one should not blindly trust that it always does so. Instead, when protecting design or related IP in the EU (or other areas), one should always aim to:

Especially design rights (also called industrial design rights and in some parts of the world design patents) are useful for the protection of design. Design rights are available in all EU countries. What’s more, EU legislator has introduced a very useful and cost-effective forms of design protection, registered and unregistered community designs, which provide design protection with one application in all EU countries. It is inexpensive and fast to obtain.

In the following sections we’ll take a closer look on the main forms of IP rights for design / design business protection available in the EU. For more information on IPR and IPR utilization in Europe, see e.g. the EU IP Helpdesk’s IP guidebook. For more information on national IP rights in- and outside Europe, see also the database of World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO).



Copyright (Finnish: tekijänoikeus) 


Design right (Finnish: mallioikeus

Trademark (Finnish: tavaramerkki)


Patent (Finnish: patentti


Utility model (Finnish: hyödyllisyysmalli


Some other forms of IP protection for designers to be aware of 

Part 3: IP protection for design businesses in the United States to be published soon!

Earlier issues:

#DESIGNIPR is part of Ornamo’s national IPR project supported by the The Ministry of Education and Culture Finland.