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What is a Design Patent?

A design patent refers to the legal protection granted to the unique visual characteristics of a product. According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), design patents typically protect the distinct configuration or surface ornamentation of a manufactured item. In other words, design patents are generally awarded to any person who has invented a new and nonobvious ornamental design for something that has a practical utility.

Design patents that have been filed before May 13, 2015, are valid for 14 years after being granted. If the patent was filed on or after May 13, 2015, it remains valid for 15 years from the date of the grant. 

Key Takeaways

  • A design patent is granted to protect the unique visual characteristics of something that has a practical utility. 
  • Generally, anyone who manufactures an item with a new and nonobvious ornamental design may be granted a design patent.
  • Design patents remain valid for 14-15 years from the date of the grant, depending on when the patent was filed.

Design Patent vs. Utility Patent

Although these two concepts may sound similar at first, design patents are not to be confused with utility patents. While design patents protect the way an item looks, utility patents refer to the item’s authentic way of functioning or operating. Moreover, utility patents last for longer than design patents. Design patents remain valid for 14 to 15 years while utility patents have a lifespan of 20 years. 

The same product may be protected by both a utility patent and a design patent simultaneously.

Design Patent Requirements

Design patents must meet a number of requirements set by the USPTO. Let's take a closer look at a few of the most important requirements. 

Firstly, the design patent must intend to safeguard a non-functional, aesthetic component of the product. Simply put, the design does not need to have usefulness, as would be required in the case of a utility patent. The design must also be deemed “original.” Well-known or naturally occurring objects or people are not considered original. Lastly, design patents will not cover designs that could be considered offensive to any race, religion, sex, ethnicity, or nationality.

Applying for a Design Patent

If you are interested in obtaining a design patent, you must first fill out an application for the patent with the USPTO. The application contains several important components such as the abstract, which provides a brief summary of the product, and the claims, which define the boundaries of protection for the product.

The application may seem intimidating since it includes specific technical requirements and lots of legal paperwork. However, an experienced intellectual property attorney should be able to help you fill it out so that the process runs smoothly.

Bottom Line

Your creation or invention deserves to be protected in its entirety - including its aesthetics and ornamental characteristics. If you’d like to learn more about what you can do to safeguard your products from infringement, call one of our top intellectual property attorneys.

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