What is an Industrial Design?

Region: Ontario Answer # 325

An industrial design is a form of intellectual property that under the Industrial Design Act, protects the visual features of a finished article made by hand, tool or machine. An industrial design only protects a “product’s unique appearance, not what it is made of, how it is made or how it works.”

According to the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO), this includes “the three-dimensional features of shape and configuration as well as the two-dimensional features such as pattern and ornament, including colour, applied to a finished article.”

Examples of industrial designs

Examples of industrial design elements include:

  • Shape: the 3-D “external form” of the industrial design.
    • e.g.: the frames of eyeglasses.
  • Configuration:the 3-D layout of the various pieces that make up the industrial design.
    • e.g.: a physical layout of the QWERTY keyboard, such as from an old computer.
    • e.g.: the placement of headlights or grilles on a car.
  • Pattern: 2-D “repeating decorative elements” – elements that remain the same throughout the design.
    • e.g.: white polka dots on a black tablecloth.
  • Ornament: 2-D “decorative element” – added to enhance the appearance of an object or surface.
    • e.g.: decorative flowers on a vase.

If there are only a few such items produced from the design, these might be considered a work of art and be entitled to copyright protection. Generally, though, if the design is used to produce more than 50 “useful” items, it must be registered as an industrial design to obtain protection from imitation.

If someone designs a piece of equipment that functions better than what is already on the market, the new functionality of the equipment is not subject matter for an industrial design. If, however, the appearance of the equipment casing is unusually different and original, then the design may be appropriate for an industrial design application. For example, items that can be registered as industrial designs include fabric patterns, furniture designs, shapes of bottles, and ornamental aspects of equipment casings.

What cannot be protected by an industrial design?

In Canada, the following are not protected as industrial designs:

  • an idea,
  • a method of construction,
  • materials used in the construction of an article, and
  • the function of an article.

Changes to the Industrial Design Act

In 2018, amendments to the Industrial Design Act and Regulations came into force making it consistent with the Geneva Act of the Hague Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Industrial Designs (the Hague System), significantly modernizing Canada’s industrial design system.

The Hague System allows individuals to acquire, maintain and manage design rights in multiple countries through a single application filed with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

Under the amended Act, the maximum term of exclusive right of a design is increased from 10 years to 15 years. There are also changes to the application process. For instance, use of a formal application form is no longer required.

For help

An intellectual property lawyer or a registered patent agent can help you determine whether your design will qualify for registration as an industrial design.

For more information about industrial designs, contact the Canadian Intellectual Property Office.


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