For those who are commissioned to design buildings or interiors or who construct and own landmark or iconic buildings, the consideration of the intellectual property rights in any designs, plans, models or the buildings themselves should be an important commercial consideration at the outset.

Architecture can be protected by a wide range of intellectual property rights from copyright including moral rights, trade marks, design rights and passing off. Understanding these rights and how they are relevant to an architect or his client can be of significant value to the architect, designer or the owner of a building.

In the context of architecture the right that is of most importance is copyright. In the UK there is no requirement to register copyright. Copyright subsists upon first fixation of the work i.e. once it takes a material form. A work is not protected by copyright unless it is original. A work of copyright architecture consists of either a building or a structure, or a model for a building or structure but not any architectural drawing. Of course any architectural drawings are capable of protection as drawings or plans but not as a work of architecture. For copyright to subsist in a work of architecture it must have some artistic character. The author of the work of architecture will be the person who creates the shape and design of the building. In most cases this will be the architect but it could also be the builder if he builds without the plans (which would be rare).

Trade marks should also be considered by architects, developers and owners of iconic or destination buildings. The use of the image, name of a building, and the layout of a building may also be protectable by registration of trade marks. This is good news for companies that develop innovative designs to make them recognisable to consumers or to maintain a certain ‘feel’.