Design protection

What is protected?

Shapes and forms i.e. the exterior appearance of an object

How does it become protected?

Registration in the design register

Minimum requirements
  • Novel
  • Overall impression must clearly differentiate from existing shapes and forms
  • Not against public order or public morality
No protection for
  • Purely technical functions
  • Ideas and concepts
  • Anything that violates federal law (e.g. protection of coats of arms) and treaties
What exceptions are there?


Scope of protection

Defined by the illustration of the design

Period of protection

5 years (renewable thereafter 4 × 5 years) 

Maximum of 25 years

Indications of protection

mod. dep.
Use optional; misuse punishable by law

Application fee (CH)

CHF 200 (basic fee) including publication of one illustration

Renewal fee (CH)

CHF 200 (5 years)

Unique to Switzerland
  • Publication can be deferred for up to 30 months
  • Novelty not examined for

Related topics


Aspects of design protection


The representation of your design determines the scope of protection

Drawings define the scope of protection, in addition to images and – for filings up to 30 June 2002 – objects. They offer the greatest possible protection. Protection is independent of the dimensions, i.e. a scale model benefits from the same protection as the original. This is why no measurements should be given on the representations in the application. Representations should always be of high quality and clearly illustrate the design. It is best to submit images in black and white so that the design is protected in all colour variations.



Formerly models – today representations

The current Designs Act came into force in 2002. Prior to this, the Designs and Models Act of 1900 was applicable, which only provided for a maximum term of protection of 15 years. Objects up to 40cm could be physically submitted for registration, although not every customer took note of the ‘small print’. One day, there was a knock on the window of the IPI’s design department. Outside was a lorry with a pivoting arm. Its driver unloaded a snail shell-shaped embankment stone, which he wanted to submit as a model. It was 120cm high and weighed 90 kilos. An IPI employee explained to him that it was sufficient to submit a drawing of his design. Under the current Designs Act, only images of registered designs are published.



Every design belongs to a class of goods

The appropriate class of goods should be stated in the design application. These classes are defined for the applicant by the IPI in accordance with the Locarno Agreement classifications. Only one class is assigned per design. If an applicant has created an entire line of designs, he or she can group them together into one application, provided that they belong to the same Locarno class of goods. Applicants can submit as many designs as they want in this multiple application. From the sixth design onwards, no additional basic fees are due. If a multiple application is not possible because the products belong to different classes of goods, the application must be divided. The designs that are most frequently filed with the IPI are for the following goods classes: clocks, watches, packaging and furniture.



Protection is only for the form

If you want to protect the design of a bottle, it doesn’t matter whether it’s for a soft drink, detergent or a vase. Design protection is unrelated to the purpose of the object. Only the form is protected.



The tangible benefits

Design protection guarantees exclusive use. The classical Swiss designs in this picture show that a form can become a timeless distinguishing feature. Design right owners can prevent others from using products with the same or a similar design for a maximum period of 25 years. This means that others cannot manufacture, store, offer, place on the market, import, export or transit such products, nor are they allowed to be in possession of them. Commercially produced goods that are intended for private use can also be prohibited from being imported, exported or transited.



Alternatives to design protection

Design is a differentiating feature in the digital world too. That’s why smartphones, smart watches and graphical user interfaces are protected. If you don’t want to register your design, but at the same time you’d like to prevent someone else from protecting it, you can publish it on a publication platform or in an article in a magazine, for example. Once published, the design is considered to be known and no one can legally protect it any more. The designer can still use their design – but so can his or her competitors. A design can also be protected by copyright or as a trade mark (i.e. as a three-dimensional figurative mark), provided that the requirements for copyright or trade mark protection are met.



A tangible law for a tangible product What constitutes a design from a legal point of view?

The IPI’s design archive contains numerous objects. They reflect the spirit of their time and the multi-faceted nature of design protection, and date back as far as the 1970s. In the legal sense, design is understood to be the exterior form of a product or parts of it. This includes two-dimensional designs, such as fabric patterns and bottle labels, but also shapes, such as watches, lamps and chairs. A design is characterised by the arrangement of lines, contours, colours and surfaces, or by the material used.



Requirements for protection

Not all designs can be registered. Design protection only applies to the form or design. This means that it doesn’t matter whether a bag is made of a recycled material (image) or the surface has a particular property. The Swiss Designs Act (DesA) stipulates both the requirements for protection (Art. 2 DesA) and the grounds for refusal (Art. 4 DesA) of a design. In order for a design to be protected, it must be new and not yet publicly known. It must also differ sufficiently in essential points from existing designs. Effective design protection requires a careful analysis of the product. Is it a single aspect, such as its shape, colour, material characteristics or decoration, that is new and particularly relevant and which gives the product its individual character? Or is it a combination of the individual aspects or all of them as a whole? The size of the product is not important when evaluating the individual character. What matters is the overall impression. In addition, a design may not be unlawful, contrary to public morality, or only include features which are determined solely by the technical function.