Smart Guides

A Smart guide for designers

Be smart about your intellectual property

It can happen that you work for days, weeks, or even months to come up with a creative design. It makes sense that you want to protect that design, so that nobody can copy it or can use it without your permission. This Guide explains how to get intellectual property right (IP rights) for your design.

Step 1/7 What is the best way to protect your designs?

There isn’t just one way:

  1. As soon as the design is ready, you automatically own the copyright.
  2. Are you collaborating with someone? In that case it is wise to make clear agreements about what to keep secret and to whom which rights belong. This is particularly important if you develop or design something while being employed or working as a freelancer. Check your employment contract or draw up a contract on these agreements and possibly add a non-disclosure agreement (NDA).
  3. In the EU we have the unregistered community design right, a way to protect your design for a period of 3 years.
  4. Do you want to officially register your design? This can be done by means by means of both a registered Benelux design, or a registered community design right. This offers a broader and longer protection than the unregistered (community) design right.
  5. In order to avoid discussions, an i-DEPOT is a useful tool. This proves that you had a certain idea at a certain moment in time. Careful: the i-DEPOT stops nobody from imitating or copying your product. That protection only derives from the above IP rights, such as a copyright or a design right. An i-DEPOT is nothing more than a means of proof and is not an IP right.

Step 2/7 Is your design also protected when you post it on social media?

Most definitely. The above measures also offer protection on Facebook or Instagram. This is especially useful in the case of copyright. This way, your design is automatically protected without you having to take additional specific steps.


Potential abusers may be put off by adding © to your design. It has no legal status, but it does indicate for example that there is a copyright associated with your design. It is also advisable to mention on your website what can and what cannot be done with your designs, images, and texts.

Step 3/7 Can I just put pictures on my website?

You can if you hold the rights to these pictures - for example if you yourself took these pictures - and in that case you do not need take additional action. In all other cases you should ask permission of the photographer. Also, do not forget to ask permission of the people who might be depicted in the picture before posting the picture online. It is best to ask both permissions in writing, in order to have proof. Be careful! Taking pictures of works on which there is a copyright and selling them without permission can also pose serious problems.

Step 4/7 How do I protect my design during a collaboration?

Do you want to cooperate with a company? Then it is better to first sign a so-called non-disclosure agreement (NDA). That way, it is clear for all parties involved what is supposed to be kept secret and what not. Here you can find how to draw up such an agreement.


Are you going through the concept phase with an external party? In that case, it is best to link your NDA to an i-DEPOT.

Step 5/7 How do I proceed if someone else copies my design anyway?

In first instance we advise you to contact the abuser. It happens that he or she doesn’t know that a product is protected, for example by means of copyright. You can then ask to remove the products from the market, to remove your design or photograph from the website.... Does that have no effect? Then ask the help of a mediator.

Is that approach also unsuccessful?? Luckily there are other possibilities.

  1. Are we talking about the unauthorized use of pictures or images? In this case you can have your picture or design removed from the internet via the search engine or via the website host.
  2. Enter into contact with the customs, so that they can confiscate counterfeit designs that enter a certain country.
  3. File a complaint with the police to have an official report established. The public prosecutor then decides what next steps to take.
  4. Hire a lawyer or see which copyright organisation you can report this to at

Step 6/7 Can I give permission to people to use or modify my designs?

Yes, but make sure that your design is legally protected before doing so. It is always better to give such a permission in writing. This avoids possible problems in the future.

Do you want to work with licences? You can give one or more parties the permission to use your design in exchange for a certain amount of money. As author you remain owner of the IP rights at all times. Parties without a licence are therefore still committing an infringement.

The use of exclusive licences is also a possibility. In that case, as single party gets your permission under specific circumstances. That company is then the only party allowed to use your design.


Make sure that your licence is always limited in time as well as geographically. How to draw up such a licence can be found here.

Step 7/7 Can I also protect my design in the metaverse?

Yes, the same legal rules apply, both in the online and in the offline world. However, it goes without saying that you have more possibilities, such as having your pictures removed, adding a watermark, or including specific agreements in your Terms and Conditions.