Design Patents 101

Have a new product idea like a cell phone case that works the same as other products but looks different? A design patent may be the way to go.

A design patent covers the ornamental design, not the functional design or aspects, of an object. An ornamental design refers to the visual ornamental shape of an object, or the visual ornamentation applied to an object. An ornamental design may be embodied in an entire article or only a portion of an article, or may be ornamentation applied to an article.

Generally speaking, a design patent does not protect functional aspects, but it offers 15 years of protection on the shape and/or decoration applied to an object. They provide less protection for an invention than a utility patent, as design patents only cover the specific shape or look of an object, and they provide this protection for five less years than a utility patent. Furthermore, since the drawings define the invention of a design patent, one absolutely cannot skimp on professional patent illustrations.

However, design patents do have some important advantages. First and foremost, they cost significantly less than utility patents and are often easier to get issued. Many inventors and companies, use them as a cost-effective way to increase the number of patents protecting their invention in order to build a patent portfolio. A patent portfolio makes it more difficult for the invention to be copied and also makes the invention more desirable for investors, licensees, and buyers. Additionally, design patents may be used to get some protection on all or portions of inventions in which the general concept or structure is not patentable or in the public domain. As an example, one could not get a utility patent on a simple kitchen knife, having a blade and a handle, but one could most likely get design patent(s) on the way the handle is shaped, how the blade is shaped, decorations applied to the knife, etc.

In conclusion, design patents can provide a legitimate avenue to “patented” or “patent pending” status. While they have a number of disadvantages in comparison to utility patents, they also have a number of advantages for inventors of tangible inventions.