The exterior design of a product can be protected by an industrial design right (“Geschmacksmuster”; in the U.S.A. the corresponding industrial property rights are called “design patents”). These rights are an important supplement to technical property rights (patents and utility models) and origin-identifying signs (marks and internet domains).
Filing industrial designs is comparatively low in cost and leads to expeditious registration of proprietary rights that are enforceable by law.
For protected industrial designs it is decisive to select suitable product representations even at the stage of filing the industrial design application. On the one hand, they have to show clearly your subject matter to be protected. On the other hand, certain exclusion criteria must be taken into account. For example, it does not usually make sense for your representations to show any aspects that will be invisible later when your product is operating.
It is essential that experienced lawyers and patent attorneys pay regard to these aspects, since industrial design rights are only examined to a very limited extent, at least in Germany and at the Community Registered Design Office (OHIM), and the true value of these industrial property rights does not become apparent until infringement proceedings take place.
However, once you have obtained a powerful industrial design registration, it can be enforced rapidly (especially in Germany by means of preliminary injunction) and is, therefore, an ideal supplement to your other (technical) proprietary rights.
For further information see for example:
German Patent and Trade Mark Office (searching and inquiring for the legal status of registered designs)
European Union Intellectual Property Office (searching and inquiring for the legal status of registered designs)
WIPO, World Intellectual Property Organization (searching and inquiring for the legal status of registered designs)
USPTO, US Patent and Trademark Office (searching and inquiring for the legal status of registered designs).