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Don’t Forget About Design Patents


If you think that a utility patent is the only way to protect your invention, think again. Thousands of products hit the market every year, protected only by the design patent. In some cases, a design patent can be the best way to make sure your product sees the light of day. Still, design patents are often confused with utility patents. Here is everything you need to know about design patents and how they differ from utility patents.



Design Patent vs. Utility Patent


If you have ever tried to sell a product you invented, you likely know about patents. You probably know that patent protection is essential for legal and financial reasons, and this is true. The type of patent that gets all the attention is the utility patent. It’s the patent that most attorneys and inventors are familiar with. However, design patents can be just as useful, and can also help your product make it to market.


Although design patents do not give you the full protection that a utility patent offers, they can still give you ample protection in a court of law. Take Apple vs. Samsung, for example. In a recent case, Apple successfully sued Samsung over its iPhone. The vast majority of the settlement was for the design, which was protected by design patents. Of the total settlement, the jury awarded $533 million for design patents and $5.3 million for utility patents. As you can see, a design patent is nothing to take lightly.

Design Patents

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) defines a design patent as protecting “the way an article looks,” which is a very straightforward way of looking at it. The USPTO goes on to distinguish between “configuration” and “ornamentation.” Namely, configuration means the shape, and ornamentation means surface embellishments. So, not only does a design patent cover an item’s three-dimensional form, but also any surface details that might be integral to its identity. As you can see, it’s a pretty important form of protection for your intellectual property. Consider these additional benefits:

  • A design patent application costs less than a utility patent.
  • It takes less time to process the application, usually 1-2 years.
  • It can provide vital protection if the main features of your product are physical or aesthetic.


That last point is crucial. If the aesthetics of your product define it, a design patent is not just helpful, it’s a must-have. Design patents have protected numerous iconic products, including the Rubix Cube, Barbie, the Frisbee, the Hula Hoop, the iPhone, the Slinky, and countless others. Toys, games, physical products, and any product you’ll handle or whose entire intellectual property resides in its shape or surface design need a design patent.


The main drawback of a design patent is that it protects only the most superficial features of an invention. Even if those features are what makes the invention functional, another inventor can quickly get around a design patent just by tweaking the shape of the features. If you have an idea but have questions about design patents, we can help. From patent information to design tools, our free resources help you access all the knowledge you need to be a successful inventor.

Utility Patents

Utility patents cover how something is made and operates. In a nutshell, a design patent covers physical form, while a utility patent covers assembly and function. Since the central identity of so many inventions is tied to their functionality, utility patents tend to be the go-to for many inventions. While utility patents tend to be more comprehensive, they also tend to be more expensive and take longer to obtain (up to 2-3 years).


The main benefit of a utility patent is that it provides broad protection. Since they cover an invention’s function, utility patents can give you the highest amount of protection for inventions whose central role is to perform a task. To boot, since it protects function, a single utility patent can cover you against several different variations of your invention.


Despite patent protection, inventions still get ripped off every day. If you see what seems like a knock-off of a famous device, either the original patent holder hasn’t gotten around to suing them (or they can’t afford to), or it’s simply not worth it. As you might have guessed, the reality is that most inventions require both a utility patent and a design patent. As we mentioned above, the iPhone required protection over certain design features as well as internal functional features. You might even say that, for something as iconic as the iPhone (or any Apple product for that matter), the design patents are an even more significant factor in what makes it unique.



Is My Invention Eligible for a Design Patent?


Is your design heavy invention genuinely unique? Have there been any other inventions made public before your invention that you might be mimicking, even unconsciously? The concept known as prior art is the main thing that will hold up your design patent. Namely, if any previous inventions resemble what you’ve created, you may have difficulty getting your patent. However, if your design is truly unique and distinct from anything that has come before it, and those unique aspects are visible while the object is in use (i.e., you can’t get a design patent for the sleek curvature of the inner lining of an electrical device), your chances of earning the patent are good.



Protect Your Creation 


Inspiration has led you to produce something original, don’t leave its protection to chance. Check out our About us page today to see what we’re all about. We are confident that we can help your goals become a reality. A design patent might be the peace of mind you need to confidently take your invention to the marketplace.

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