A registered design (or ‘design patent’ in the USA) is a form of intellectual property right that provides the owner with a limited term right to exclude others from producing a product with substantially the same visual appearance as the registered design.
A registered design is easier to enforce than copyright. Unlike copyright, there is no requirement to show that the infringer ‘copied’ the design. It is sufficient to show that the infringing product is substantially similar and whether or not the infringer was aware of the registered design or product is irrelevant for determining infringement.
In order to obtain a valid design registration the design must be novel, i.e. the design must be new to the world. This means that for many countries, including New Zealand, you must KEEP THE DESIGN SECRET until you've filed an application for a registered design, otherwise the design will no longer be deemed novel. If you need to talk to someone about the design before making an application, make sure they sign a non-disclosure agreement or similar agreement.
Designs only protect the ‘shape and configuration’ and/or ‘pattern and ornamentation’ of an object and not any method of manufacture or functioning of the object.
Any design application must be filed before any public disclosure or commercial use.
The term of a design registration varies by country and ranges from 10-25 years from filing the application. In NZ it is 15 years from the filing date.