When people envision a patented invention, they likely imagine some variation on the 'better mousetrap' approach to inventing: Taking an existing object and changing it so that it works better. These patents are known as utility patents, and essentially cover how something operates. However, there is a second common type of patent called a "design patent." Design patents are essentially the inverse of utility patents, in that they cover how an invention looks, versus how it works.
The USPTO describes design patents as being:
"Issued for a new, original, and ornamental design embodied in or applied to an article of manufacture, it permits its owner to exclude others from making, using, or selling the design."
Design patents can be used to protect the design of physical objects, such as clocks, clothing, cabinets, sunglasses, and much more. They can also be used to protect the look and functionality of virtual user interfaces--a good example of this is Apple's notorious patent for the iPhone's "slide-to-unlock" lock screen.
While some design patents are rather notorious, applying for a design patent is an excellent means of protecting unique designs from being duplicated and sold by competitors.
Differences Between Design Patents and Utility Patents
There are a number of technical and practical differences between design and utility patents. Utility patents have shorter lifespans, lasting only 15 years versus the 20 years that utility patents are good for. But this disadvantage is balanced out by the fact that design patents don't require the payment of patent maintenance fees, while such fees must be paid on utility patents 4, 8, and 12 years after the issuance of the patent.
Generally speaking, design patents are simpler to apply for, cost less, and are issued more quickly than utility patents. However, design patents are usually more difficult to enforce than utility patents. There are many more differences between these two classes of patent--see our article on "How is a Design Patent Different Than a Utility Patent" for more information.
Design Patent Application Forms
A design patent application should include the following forms and paperwork:
- Design application transmittal form – This form is actually optional if you use an application data sheet. It mostly exists for the convenience of the USPTO so that you don’t forget to file something.
- Fee transmittal form – This form is required if you are filing on paper, but it is automatically created if you file online.
- Application data sheet – This form can either be filled out and uploaded or automatically populated if you file online.
- Specification – More on this below.
- Drawings or photographs,
- Inventor’s oath or declaration.
- Power of attorney – While not required, it’s good to file this if you have a registered patent attorney representing you.
Refer to our article on the necessary design patent paperwork for more information.
Drawings to Include in a Design Patent Application
Any patent application requires the inclusion of drawings and images, so that patent examiners can better understand and evaluate an inventor's argument for patent worthiness. This is especially the case with design patents.
When submitting design patent drawings, there are at least six viewpoints that should be included. If you imagine that your design has been placed in the middle of a wire frame cube, you should draw your invention from the following viewpoints:
However, this is not an all inclusive list. If there are any other perspectives, viewpoints, or specific details that would lend clarity to an examiner's understanding of the invention, then these should be included as well.
For more information on the finer points of design patent drawings, please refer to our article, "What Drawings Need to be Included in a Design Patent Application?"
Your Design Patent Application Can Benefit From the Insight of an Experience Patent Attorney
The process of obtaining a design patent is complex, and in many respects differs significantly from the utility patent application process. In addition, design patents face an uphill battle in court when fighting against those who infringe upon the patent. This is why it's critically important to ensure the maximum possible protection for your design patent by obtaining the guidance of an experienced patent attorney.
To learn more about how a patent attorney can help protect your design, call us at 916-760-8265, or use our convenient online contact form to send a message directly to our office.
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