Design patents are a useful tool for protecting the ornamental, non-functional design of an article of manufacture, ranging from physical goods, such as handbags and park benches, to purely electronic creations, such as graphical user interfaces (GUIs) and icons. In a design patent, the drawings submitted with the application define the scope of protection and, therefore, it is important to ensure the drawings filed with the application cover the design in the manner intended.
Design patents are most useful in protecting against exact copies. In some cases, however, protection can extend to cover designs that differ slightly from the claimed design. For example, if an ordinary observer familiar with other earlier designs in the same field is easily deceived into thinking the different design is the same as the patented design, the different design may be deemed infringing.
While the protection afforded by design patents is somewhat limited, the cost of obtaining design patent protection is typically significantly less than the cost of fully prosecuting a utility patent. The filing fees are lower and the time required to prepare, file, and prosecute a design application to issuance is usually much less. Often, the entire process takes less than a year, as compared to several years or more in most utility cases. Additionally, there are no maintenance fees once the patent issues in the United States, so the design patent will remain in force without further costs or action required. Lastly, the term of a design patent is 14 years from the date of grant, not the usual 20 years from the date of filing for utility patents.
Design patents are a useful and economical tool to consider when developing a strategy regarding the protection of intellectual property, especially when cost and time are prime considerations or in conjunction with utility patents to provide additional protection.
This post on Patents was authored by Mike Hammer.