What rights do I as a customer have?

This is part of a series of articles to help you with some often confusing design situations. In this part, we will answer some important design-related questions in hopes of alleviating common issues that come up between designers and their clients.

What rights do I as a customer have?
The situation is clear, you want to use the results developed by the designers commercially and at the same time reveal as little information as possible. Let’s see how much designers affect their clients, going step by step through the possible areas of law, In particular:

– The right to confidentiality
– Right of use
– Copyright
– Log-able property rights (copyright)
– Rights of third parties


Confidentiality Agreement:
Without a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) on reciprocity, no deeper discussion should be conducted in most cases. This protects your interests, your valuable business secrets, as well as the valuable know-how of your design partners. We use in our practice a proven and tested standard form, which we will provide for you in German and English (see the links at the end of the article). In the course of the design project, the design partner then has the obligation, in the event of conversations with third parties, to ensure that this agreement is also transferred to these third parties in order to provide complete protection of your interests and secrets.


The right to use the designs
You want to be sure that you are allowed, to the fullest extent possible, to use the design result that you’ve paid for. Unless otherwise agreed upon, in most design agencies this means that upon full payment of the contract, all transferable rights to the final design are passed on to you for use, without any temporal, spatial, or quantitative restrictions. The final design that you have chosen, at least what has been clearly defined and documented, is meant for your use, after all. If desired, you can even purchase rights for additional results from the development phase of the design project.


Another thing to consider in terms of compensation for design is the separation between design and usage fee, as defined by the AGD (Alliance of German Designers) in its wage agreement (see link at the end of this article). With this separate consideration of the agreed fee, the extent of use can calculated in small increments to determine the total “fair” fee. It has been coupled with an increased administrative burden on the contractual agreement and the possible recalculation of additional usage rights. For this reason, we generally advocate using a flat design fee.


The German Copyright Act

German copyright law has some interesting implications when it comes to design agreements. For words, music, photography or artistic graphics it’s usually readily apparent who the creation can be attributed to, but for design themes this not true in most cases. Copyright law general applies to commercial art and deals with doubts about individuals and their own personal creation. With web and product design, very few creations are copyright protected (a nice, concise summary of related regulations can be found on the RA Margaret May website). Since the Copyright Act already recognizes personal rights at the moment of creation, this does not need to be registered separately. As a legal personality, it is also not transferable; only the use of the copyright can be transferred. The author of the design usually has the legal right to advertise their authorship.


More log-able rights (copyright)
Things like design patents, utility patents, general patents or trademarks are the responsibility (and decision) of the customer. Your designer will be happy to help with registration, give you advice and put you in touch with relevant consultants and service providers. Doing your own research is quite easy; in Germany, for instance, the websites of the German Patent and Trademark Office DPMA and the European Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market OHIM are excellent resources.


So-called third-party rights
As the client, it’s best that the chosen design and the desired purpose of use is not contrary to the rights of a third party, and that they can’t be claimed or used by that party.  Such a situation can be prevented by careful research and development of one’s own ideas and designs, so any good designer will tell you that the design results are his or her own intellectual creations. Nevertheless, there are unfortunately no 100% guarantees, especially because pending rights of third parties may be partially traced only by expensive, global searches. In our 22 years of international design practice, however, we haven’t had a single case in which a design created by our office violated the rights of third parties, something that should reassure you on this point!

As you can see, design rights are not an easy issue, there are also various ways of what question you moved


Feel free to ask us! We will do our best to answer.

Related links:

AGD: Reimbursement Contract 
VDID: information on design contracts 
How do I start a design project?

China’s Peculiar “Love Day” Gives Businesses a Boost
How can we measure the quality of design performance?
Miriam Dabrowa


An ambitious designer with invaluable thoughts and creativities.

Originally written by Miriam Dabrowa, 12. May 2013. Last updated 22. April 2016

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