From the chairs that we sit on, the pens that we write with and the clothes that we wear, design plays an important role in many aspects of our lives. Design impacts on objects in a range of ways from the way that objects look through to the way that they function. Given this it is not surprising that design is pivotal to the commercialisation and marketing of many different products. In this chapter, we look at the law that encourages and protects the skill, labour and effort that goes into the creation of new designs. Intellectual property protection for designs focuses on the visual appearance of commercial or industrial articles, rather than their function or the means of producing them. In Australia, the law in this area is set out in the Designs Act 2003 (Cth). This Act repealed the Designs Act 1906 (Cth), which governed Australian designs law for most of the twentieth century.
Design law occupies an awkward position in contemporary intellectual property law, where it is often regarded as the step-child of patents and copyright. In part this has been reinforced by the fact that unlike these other categories of intellectual property law, there has never been a specific international treaty that deals with design protection. Despite this, design law is one of the oldest forms of intellectual property. Designs for certain textiles such as linens, cottons, calicos and muslins were first protected in the UK by the 1787 and 1794 Calico Printers Acts.