What is a Design Patent?

Design patents are a form of intellectual property protection granted to an inventor who has conceived a new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture. In order to obtain a design patent, the invention must be embodied in a single or inseparable article of manufacture. The appearance of the article, and not its function, is protectable under a design patent. 

Unlike other forms of IP protection, design patents are not based on the novel features or functionality of an invention. Rather, they are based on the aesthetic characteristics or visual appeal of the invention. As such, design patents can be extremely valuable tools for protecting unique and innovative designs. 


Design Patents 101 

A design patent is a type of IP that protects the ornamental design of an object that has practical utility. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) issues design patents. They are valid for 15 years from the date of issuance. 

Unlike utility patents, which protect the functional aspects of an invention, design patents only cover the appearance of an object. To be eligible for protection, a design must be new, original, and non-obvious. You can not get IP protection for designs that are functional or dictated by function. 

Inventors use design patents to protect the unique appearance of products such as furniture, jewelry, and automobiles. In addition to providing protection for the ornamental design of an object, design patents can also be used to prevent competitors from copying the overall look of a product. As a result, design patents can play an important role in protecting the investment made in the development of a new product. Better yet, they tend to cost less than utility patents and do not require maintenance fees. 


Famous Examples of Design Patents 

Over the years, many famous women and people of color have held design patents for their innovative creations. For example, Maya Lin is best known for her work as an artist and architect, but she also holds a patent for her design of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. 

In the fashion industry, designers like Vera Wang and Diane von Furstenberg have patented iconic looks like the “wrap dress.” And in the world of toys, Patty Perkins holds the patent for her popular “rattle ball” design. These examples show that design patents can be applicable across a wide range of industries. By protecting the unique appearance of a product, they help to promote creativity and innovation in all kinds of businesses. 


Using Design Patents Together With Copyrights and Trademarks

When it comes to protecting your intellectual property, it’s important to consider all of your options. Design patents, copyrights, and trademarks are each powerful tools that can help to safeguard your creations. However, they also have different strengths and weaknesses. By using all three, you can create a well-rounded strategy that will offer the best defense for your intellectual property. 

Design patents protect the unique appearance of an object, while copyrights protect specific aspects of the design, such as drawings or patterns. Trademarks, on the other hand, protect any type of distinctive mark, such as a logo or name. By using all three types of protection, you can create a comprehensive shield for your intellectual property. 


Main Components of a Design Patent Filing

To obtain a design patent, an applicant must file a patent application with the USPTO along with the filing fee.  

The design patent filing must include:

(1) A preamble – stating the name of the applicant, title of the design, and a brief description of the nature and intended use of the article in which the design is embodied,

(2) Cross reference to any related applications (such as a utility patent, copyright, or trademark),

(3) a description of the figure(s) of the drawing,

(4) a description of the features of the design,

(5) a single claim which defines the design,

(6) drawings or photographs of the design (multiple different views), and

(7) an executed oath or declaration. 

Once the applicant submits the application, an examiner ensures the application meets all formalities. They will also compare the application with prior art. The examiner may then approve or reach out to the applicant if the application requires amendments. At this point, the applicant may respond, in writing. 

While a patent attorney or registered patent agent can assist with a design patent application (and any necessary responses), you are not required to work with a professional. You can submit a design patent application on your own, but it’s wise to weigh all the pros and cons of doing so first. 


More Resources on “What is a Design Patent?”

If you’d like to learn more about design patents (or how to obtain one) check out our free intellectual property course on Udemy!

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The Michelson Institute for Intellectual Property, an initiative of the Michelson 20MM Foundation, provides access to empowering IP education for budding inventors and entrepreneurs. Michelson 20MM was founded thanks to the generous support of renowned spinal surgeon Dr. Gary K. Michelson and Alya Michelson. To learn more, visit 20mm.org.