What Are Design Patents?
A U.S. design patent protects the visual and ornamental appearance of an article of manufacture.
In simple terms, a design patent protects the way an article looks. It cannot be granted to protect primarily functional elements of an article. Instead, a utility patent is used to protect an article’s functional features. As such, comprehensive patent portfolios may contain both design patents and utility patents to protect both the ornamental appearance and the functional elements of an article.
Unlike utility patents, a design patent contains only one claim, and the drawings of a design patent define the scope of protection. For this reason, it is essential to provide high-quality drawings that accurately reflect the article for which protection is sought. Any changes to the drawings should be made before filing the design application to avoid the introduction of new matter.
Patent term and publication also differ between design patents and utility patents. Namely, design patents are valid for 15 years from the date of grant. They are published only as granted patents and are not subject to the typical 18-month publication rules governing utility patents. Thus, applications for design patents that are abandoned, rejected, or otherwise not granted, are not published by the USPTO.
Regarding filing dates, it is a best practice to file a design patent application before any public disclosures of the article are made. Nonetheless, applicants are granted a one-year grace period to file an application following a public disclosure.
Adherence to foreign priority and foreign filing deadlines is also important, as these deadlines are shorter than those for utility patents. Specifically, U.S. design applications claiming priority to a foreign application must be filed within six months of the filing of the foreign application. Similarly, foreign applications claiming priority to a U.S. design application should be filed within six months of the filing of the corresponding U.S. application.
Design patents can function as a strong tool in a client’s IP portfolio by providing patent protection that is different from, or supplemental to, protection granted by utility patents. For these reasons, design patents should not be overlooked when evaluating a client’s overall IP strategy.
If you have a product with ornamental features that you wish to protect, we can help you!