Design Patent Laws

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What Is a Design Patent?

A Design Patent is a special type of patent issued for the original, new, or unique design for a manufactured item.  Design patents are limited only to the design or shape of an object, and apply only to the aesthetic or ornamental value of the item. Design patents also provide protection to a product's design when the design was created for the purpose of making an ornamental look to a product or invention.

If the design was created for a product because that design worked better, or cost less to make, then a design patent will not protect that product's design.Thus, if the specific design also serves some sort of practical or mechanical function, then the creator needs to file a utility patent instead of a design patent.  Design patents cannot simply be adaptations of an existing form or ornament.

Applications for design patents are very similar to those for utility patents, except that the description is usually much shorter.  Design patents are usually valid for up to 14 years from the date of issue, and don’t require any fees for maintaining them during that time.  

What Is the Difference Between a Design Patent and Copyright Protection?

Design patents and copyrights both protect aesthetic features of products and inventions. Copyright is used to protect non-utilitarian creations. Non-utilitarian creations exist only for their looks and not for their usefulness. Examples of such creations protected by copyright laws include paintings, songs, books, and sculptures. Copyright does protect utilitarian articles, but copyright only protects the aesthetic features of the article, which can exist independently from the article. An example of this would be a statute used as the base of a lamp, or a painting applied to the side of an automobile.

Design patents are utilized to protect the novel ornamental features of a utilitarian object. In cases where the aesthetic features themselves cannot be separated from the utilitarian object, a design patent can protect the ornamental features, while copyright protection cannot. For example, a design patent could protect the look of a computer CPU case, which would not be protectable under copyright law.

What Is the Process For Obtaining a Design Patent?

An application for a design patent is much easier to get than trying to get a utility patent. The specification is short and follows a simpler form. Only one claim is permitted for a design patent. The drawings in a design patent are similar to those in a utility patent, except that design patent drawings are designed to show the ornamental features of the product or invention rather than its utilitarian aspects.

If the application is accepted, the Patent and Trademark Office will send a notice allowing the patent to the applicant's patent attorney. As is the case with a utility patent, an issue fee will be required for issuance of the patent. A design patent issue fee is only one-third of the issue fee for a utility patent. No maintenance fees are necessary to maintain a design patent in force.

What Are Some Examples of Design Patents?

Design patents have been issued for some very iconic American items and products over the decades.  For example, the first bottle of Coca-Cola was awarded a design product for the unique shape of the glass bottle.  Also, the Statue of Liberty received a design patent, which can be applied to the production of miniature models.

Other examples of items or objects that are commonly registered under design patent laws include:

What is “Design Patent Infringement?”

Once a design patent is registered, that design can’t be used without the owner’s permission.  Design patent infringement is similar to other types of patent infringement, and can lead to lawsuits or a court order instructing the defendant to cease use of the design.    

Note that design infringement rules don’t just apply to designs that are exactly the same as the registered one, but also to designs that are “substantially similar”.  Thus, design patents are a powerful tool that can help protect a person’s interests in a particular design.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Assistance with a Design Patent?

Design patents can help a person protect their valuable creations and designs.  If you need help securing a design patent, you may wish to contact an experienced lawyer in your area.  Your lawyer can help go over the design patent with you, and can also represent you in court if your design has been infringed upon.

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Last Modified: 08-14-2015 10:58 AM PDT

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