Ice cream van designs and intellectual property rights

6th February 2015

It seems that no sphere of creativity is immune from being copied, even a distinctive ice cream van!

All businesses own various intellectual property rights, and these can often be protected without needing to spend money and time making formal applications for patents and trademarks. This was highlighted in a recent dispute between two companies that manufacture ice cream vans Whitby Specialist Vehicles Ltd v Yorkshire Specialist Vehicles Ltd.

The court held that Whitby Specialists Vehicles owned design rights in various aspects of the shape and configuration of their van. These “design rights” established under the Copyright, Patents and Designs Act 1988, do not require registration and give the owner protection for five years to prevent a competitor copying their designs.

Martin de Ridder, solicitor in the dispute resolution and employment teams at Ansons Solicitors in Cannock, explains design in more detail.

Intellectual property is an umbrella term used to describe a range of legal rights that attach to certain types of information and ideas, and to their particular forms of expression. Design rights protect the appearance of the whole or part of a product.

Registered designs

A registered design provides a legal monopoly. As with a registered trade mark, design owners can apply for a UK registered design or a Community registered design, which must be:

  • novel;
  • of individual character; and
  • not excluded by law.

Protection lasts a maximum of 25 years, with registrations renewed every five years. Design registration is relatively low-cost and is particularly appropriate for industries where design is instrumental in selling the product, such as fashion.

Unregistered designs

An unregistered design also provides a right against copying. Protection is given at both the UK and EU level. The EU right is broader in scope but only lasts for three years. Under the UK right, protection lasts for the lesser of 15 years from first recording or ten years from first marketing.

If you manufacture anything which has a distinctive design and would like to ensure that it is protected contact Martin de Ridder to discuss protection of your intellectual property rights on 01543 431 186 or email Ansons Solicitors has offices in Cannock and Lichfield, Staffordshire.