U.S. Copyright Registration for Product Designs

Max Steinhausen

When it comes to protecting innovative product designs, such as novelty furniture, toys, or jewellery, copyright registration with the U.S. Copyright Office is an often-overlooked solution.

Design Registration vs. Copyright

The first step is to understand the difference between design registration (or design patent in the U.S. and China) and copyright.

Design Registration

A design registration (or design patent in the U.S. and China) is a form of intellectual property protection that specifically covers the visual appearance of a functional item. When an inventor or creator obtains a design registration, they gain exclusive rights to prevent others from making, using, or selling products with a substantially similar visual design. A design registration protects the unique aesthetics of products, ranging from furniture, kitchen utensils, consumer electronics to fashion accessories and other industrial designs.


Copyright, on the other hand, protects original works of authorship and grants creators the exclusive rights to their creations, allowing them to control how their works are published, used, and reproduced.

While most people associate copyright with literary works, music, and visual arts, it is important to understand that copyright also covers sculptures and, therefore, some elements of product designs. While functional aspects are not eligible, the artistic or creative elements of a product design may receive copyright protection.

Copyright Registration

While copyright protection exists automatically upon creation, registering your work with the U.S. Copyright Office provides several advantages:

First, a registered copyright serves as evidence of your ownership, creating a public record that can be referenced in disputes or licensing negotiations.

Second, registration provides access to legal remedies in the U.S. For instance, it is a prerequisite for pursuing statutory damages and attorneys’ fees in case of infringement. Without registration, your options for seeking compensation in the U.S. are limited.

Third, registered works become more commercially attractive to potential licensees, publishers, and distributors. Licensing opportunities increase when your work is officially registered, enhancing its commercial viability.

Lastly, registration acts as public notice, informing others that your work is protected. It deters unauthorised use and encourages respect for intellectual property rights, benefiting both you and the broader creative community.

To qualify for copyright registration, a product design must meet the following criteria:

  • Originality: The design must be your own creation, not a copy of existing works.
  • Fixed Form: The design should exist in a tangible form (e.g., drawings, sketches, or photographs).
  • Creative Expression: The design must feature creative elements. Purely utilitarian features are not eligible.


Registering your product designs with the U.S. Copyright Office ensures legal protection and strengthens your rights as a creator. Whether you are an industrial designer, a jewellery maker, or a digital artist, take the necessary steps to safeguard your creative work.

For more information about copyright registration, visit the U.S. Copyright Office website or contact us for advice specific to your circumstances.

Disclaimer: This article provides general information and does not constitute legal advice.

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