Australian designs, Victorian designs, British designs, American designs

Subject librarian

Barbara Carswell
Contact me via our online reference service citing my name and the title of this guide


This guide provides information on the collections of Australian and Victorian registered designs held by the State Library of Victoria. It identifies relevant print and online indexes for searching and locating design representations. Also included are links to the collections of Australian and Victorian registered designs held by the National Archives of Australia (NAA) in Canberra. Information about designs registered in Great Britain and in the United States is also included.

What is a registered design ?

Sebel showrooms Wolfgang Sievers H2004.100/49IP Australia says "A design is the overall appearance of a product. This includes the shape, configuration, pattern and ornamentation which, when applied to a product, give it a unique visual appearance", and "must be new and distinctive." A visual feature may, but need not, serve a functional purpose. A product is anything that is manufactured or hand made.

Designs can be registered for a wide range of products, under specific classes of goods, including clothing, furniture, watches, toys, computers, jewellery and musical instruments. Australia uses the international Locarno Classification System for registering designs.

Registration protects only the appearance of a product; not how it works. Registration gives the owner legally enforceable, exclusive rights to commercially use, licence or sell that design. Under the Australian 'Designs Act 2003' (Cth) (commenced 17/6/2004), the current term of registration for a design is 5 years, and it can be extended for an additional 5 years, for a maximum of 10 years. If the registration lapses it cannot be renewed.

In the United States, registered designs are known as 'design patents'. 

To register Australian designs overseas, a separate application in each country is required, although for Europe, a single application covers all the countries in the European Community (EU). IP Australia has more information on international designs.

Designs, patents and trade marks

Designs are just one type of intellectual property (the property of your mind or intellect) legally recognised in Australia.  The others are patents, trade marks, copyright, electronic circuit layouts rights, plant breeder's rights, and confidential information / trade secrets. For detailed descriptions of each see IP Australia.

The key difference between patents, trade marks and designs can be explained by the following example of a ball point pen.

The design will describe the shape and appearance of the pen.

The patent will describe how the pen's ball point operates to distribute ink to paper.

The trade mark will identify the brand of the pen, for example Bic Pro.

The Library also has research guides on patents and trade marks.

State Library Victoria

328 Swanston Street
Melbourne VIC 3000 Australia
+61 3 8664 7000

State Library Victoria forecourt

Keeping up to date with design information

Current information relating to designs, and other forms of intellectual property (patents, trade marks, copyright) is available online.

The database SNIPER (Searchable Networked Intellectual Property Electronic Resource) includes articles, conference papers, book chapters and online documents.

SNIPER is indexed on the Informit database in the Library, and can be accessed from home for State Library registered Victorian residents.

You can access full text of recent issues of the SNIPER bulletin through IP Australia.

The Australian Intellectual Property Report 2014  published by IP Australia, provides statistics and analysis of Australia's intellectual property system.