Explained In English: Copyright, Patents, Trademarks & Registered Designs

Explained In English: Copyright, Patents, Trademarks & Registered Designs

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Copyright TM R

This is a guest article by Samuel Jesse McCown, the man behind the new and outstanding blog, Gráfica Real.

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Recently I was involved in a project with a team of industrial designers, graphics designers and myself in which we collectively had to design a product and branding package for a fictional social entrepreneurial company which required many types of intellectual property including a trademark, a copyright, and a patent.

I was always aware of IP although the lines were a little blurred when it came to the finer details and variations between the different options available. It is important to know the rights you have or may be infringing when working on a project so I have put together a brief run through of the main areas of IP you may be required to be knowledgeable in, when working as a designer.


A trademark can be a letter, number, word, phrase, sounds, smell, slogan, logo, picture, aspect of packaging or any combination of these.

Trademarks are used to distinguish goods and services of one trade from those of another. You don’t have to register your trade mark to use it however registration is advisable because it can be an expensive and time consuming exercise to take action under common law.

A registered trade mark gives you exclusive legal rights to use, license or sell it within your country (laws vary within countries) for the goods and services for which it is registered.

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Example: Cadbury Schweppes have a trademark on their specific purple colour.


Registered Design

Registered Design refers to the configuration, pattern, or ornamentation which when applied to a product gives the product a unique appearance. You can register a design but it must be new and distinctive.

Example: The Coca Cola bottle, even without any text or branding was recently registered in Japan being the first of its kind.

Coca Cola

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Design copyright protects the original expression of ideas not the ideas themselves. It is free and automatically safeguards your original works of arts and literature, music, film, sound, recording, broadcast, computer programs from copying and other uses.

In Australia, copyright protection is provided under the Copyright Act 1958 and is administered by the office of the Attorney General. It gives exclusive rights to license others in regard to copyrighting the work, performing it in public, broadcasting etc.

You may also be interested in Copyright Issues in Logo Design & Typography.

Example: The specific character, and material relating to Batman is protected under copyright.

Dark Knight Batman


A patent is a right granted for any device, substance, method, process which is new inventive and useful. Patents are legally enforceable and gives the owner the exclusive right to commercially exploit the invention for the life of the patent. The innovation patent is a protection option which is designed to protect inventions that are not sufficiently inventive.

Example: The Ipod range is protected under a patent.

iPod range

Source: Professor Scott Whiteside – Swinburne University

Have you got any more copyright, patent or trademark knowledge? Please share with us in the comments below.

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18 thoughts on “Explained In English: Copyright, Patents, Trademarks & Registered Designs”

  1. Thanks for posting! You may stumble with another one that looks like this MR which is quite common. Don’t mind it, it’s just spanish for trademark “Marca Registrada” Cheers.

  2. Great info. Many times clients are confused by the differences among these as well. Excellent resource to bookmark!

  3. Good information. I’m curious to know more about the registered trademark process. What kind of fees are involved? What is involved in the submission process? How long does it typically take?

  4. That’s a very simplified yet comprehensive explanation of these technical mumbo jumbo. Thanks.

  5. In France, intellectual property is automatic. As soon as you created it, your design is protected without do anything. However it is recommended you register it on INPI (national intitute of intellectual property) to prove the paternity of design in case of trouble.

    Designer can’t give up, or part with some rights called “moral rights”. Those rights are perpetual, imprescriptible and inalienable. So he (or his descendants)can require to be explicitly named as author. He also as the right to prohibit changes on his creation. And last of moral rights, he can revocate the exploitation of his creation to the buyer; but he could have to indemnify him, especialy if the use don’t harm him.

    Sorry for my poor english, hope i did not make mistranslation.

  6. I teach high school graphic design and I was looking for an online resource to explain the differences outlined here and this was absolutely perfect-thanks!

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