Design Patents

Uncovering the Key Differences Between Utility and Design Patents

Have you ever wondered about the key differences between utility and design patents? Understanding these differences is crucial for inventors and businesses looking to protect their innovations. In this blog post, we’ll delve into the world of patents and explore the distinctions between utility and design patents, their application processes, and how to choose the right one for your invention. By the end, you’ll have a comprehensive understanding of these patent types, empowering you to make informed decisions about protecting your intellectual property.

Key Takeaways

  • Design patents protect the aesthetic features of an invention, while utility patents safeguard its functional features.
  • International patent protection is essential for comprehensive coverage and legal enforcement strategies should be employed to ensure optimal protection.
  • Filing both design and utility patent applications can provide complete intellectual property rights with quicker protection from design patents.

Understanding Design Patents

The aesthetic features of an invention are safeguarded by design patents. While utility patents cover the functional aspects of an invention, design patents focus on safeguarding the visual aspect of an article. A design patent’s aim is to guard the unique, ornamental appearance of an article, maintaining your invention’s exclusivity.

The overall shape of an item, which a design patent protects, can be safeguarded along with the

Ornamental Design Elements

The original, ornamental aesthetic of an article, including its visual appearance and surface ornamentation, is protected by a design patent. This encompasses the configuration or shape of an article, the surface ornamentation applied to it, or a combination of both.

In a design patent application, broken lines are used to illustrate environment and boundaries that are not part of the claimed design, while solid lines define the scope of the design.

Design Patent Examples

A broad range of industries and applications utilize design patents. For instance, computer icons are eligible for design patent protection when they are displayed on a computer screen, constituting a part of an article of manufacture with practical utility. Google and Meta (formerly Facebook) have secured their graphical user interfaces with U.S. design patents and IP registrations around the world. Such moves show their commitment to protecting their intellectual property rights globally..

These examples demonstrate the versatility and importance of design patents in protecting the unique visual aspects of various products and technologies.

Utility Patents: Function Over Form

Unlike design patents, utility patents prioritize the functional features of an invention, safeguarding the product’s functionality. Utility patents are granted for:

  • any new and useful process
  • machine
  • article of manufacture
  • composition of matter
  • any new and useful improvement thereto.

When comparing utility and design patents, it is important to note that utility patents generally offer a higher level of protection for an invention than design patents and are more prevalent.

Functional Features

The practical elements of an invention are covered under utility patents, which provide protection for its operation and innovative features. For example, a utility patent may protect a novel system that enhances smartphone battery life.

Securing a utility patent allows inventors and businesses to maintain exclusivity over their inventions’ functional aspects, warding off unauthorized replication or use.

Utility Patent Examples

Utility patents can be found across a variety of industries, showcasing the importance of protecting an invention’s functionality. Examples of utility patents include:

  • A delayed windshield wiper system
  • An airbag assembly for motor vehicles
  • A nebulizer device
  • An ergonomic storage device

These examples highlight the diverse range of inventions that can benefit from utility patent protection, ultimately safeguarding their functionality and market value.

The Application Process: Design vs. Utility Patents

The application processes and requirements for patent protection differ for design and utility patents. Fees associated with filing, search, examination, and maintenance fees are required for utility and design patent applications. They must be taken into consideration when submitting the application.

Typically, design patent applications have a shorter timeline than utility patent applications, enabling inventors to obtain protection for their ornamental designs more quickly.

Design Patent Application Requirements

Certain specific elements need to be included in a design patent application. These are:

  • Drawings of the article’s ornamental appearance
  • A description of these drawings and appearance
  • One claim
  • A brief description of the article and its purpose

Design patent drawings must adhere to specific guidelines, such as not including solid black surface shading except when used to represent the color black and color contrast.

Utility Patent Application Requirements

Alternatively, a utility patent application requires a detailed description of the invention and a comprehensive set of claims, along with a patent therefor. Drawings may be included if necessary to aid in understanding the invention.

Prior to filing a utility patent application, it is recommended to conduct a patentability search to identify any prior art, such as previously published patents, patent applications, or other publications similar to the invention, assessing novelty and non-obviousness.

International Patent Protection

Due to the globalized nature of today’s market, the importance of international patent protection has grown for both inventors and businesses. The scope and duration of patent protection can vary across different countries, making it essential to understand the nuances of international patent laws and processes to effectively protect your intellectual property.

Design Patents Around the World

Design patents have different durations in various countries. For example, Japanese industrial designs have a duration of 20 years, while Australian design rights have a duration of 10 years.

International filings are crucial for safeguarding design patents in multiple countries, ensuring comprehensive protection for your invention’s ornamental design, with the filing date playing a vital role in this process.

Utility Models and Their Role

Utility models, which are a form of intellectual property protection similar to patents, play a significant role in protecting inventions. They have a shorter lifespan and a more limited scope than patents. Typically, utility models have a duration of 10 years.

Despite their limited scope, utility models serve as an essential tool in safeguarding inventions from unauthorized replication or use.

Choosing the Right Patent Type for Your Invention

Selecting the appropriate patent type for your invention involves considering the jurisdictions where protection is sought. Assessing the extent of the required protection and determining whether you would like to protect a functional or ornamental innovation are also essential factors to consider.

Comprehending the key distinctions between design and utility patents enables you to make well-informed decisions on how to best protect your intellectual property.

Balancing Utility and Ornamental Features

It’s vital to consider both utility patents and the utility and ornamental appearance when deciding on a patent type, as this will influence the degree of protection for the invention. Utility patents focus on the practical elements and operation of an invention, while design patents protect the distinctive and decorative features of a manufactured object.

Taking both aspects into account can help secure comprehensive protection for your invention.

Filing Both Utility and Design Patent Applications

Filing both utility and design patent applications can prove beneficial for inventions that combine a unique structure/function with distinctive features and an ornamental design. Securing both types of patents can provide comprehensive protection for your invention and increase its market value.

Moreover, design patents can be obtained more rapidly in comparison to utility patents, providing quicker protection for your exclusive design.

Legal Protection and Enforcement

The protection of your invention begins with securing your intellectual property rights. It is equally important to understand the legal protection and enforcement landscape related to patent law.

Awareness of the distinct types of potential infringements, the possible repercussions, and strategies for safeguarding your intellectual property are included in this.

Infringement Types and Consequences

There are several types of patent infringement, including direct, indirect, induced, contributory, and literal infringement. Direct infringement occurs when a person or entity utilizes, markets, or proposes to market a patented invention without the authorization of the patent holder.

Indirect infringement involves inducing or contributing to the infringement of a patent by another party. The consequences of infringement can include legal action and financial penalties.

Strategies for Protecting Intellectual Property

A proactive approach is necessary for protecting your intellectual property. Some widely used measures for safeguarding intellectual property include filing for a patent, trademark, or copyright; registering a domain name; and employing a nondisclosure agreement.

Enforcing intellectual property rights may involve filing a lawsuit, sending a cease and desist letter, or filing a complaint with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Understanding the legal landscape and implementing effective strategies can guarantee the optimal protection for your invention.

What Design Patents Protect:

  • Shapes
  • Surface ornamentation
  • Combination of both

Wondering if you need a Design Patent or a Utility Patent or Trade Dress?

Your invention’s nature will dictate whether you need a design patent, utility patent, or trade dress. Sometimes, a combination might be ideal.

Design Patent:

  • What it Protects: The visual appearance of an item.
  • Focus: Exclusively on how a product looks.
  • Duration: 15 years from the grant date in the U.S.
  • Quicker and generally less expensive. Focuses on drawings and descriptions.

Utility Patent:

  • What it Protects: Functional aspects of an invention.
  • Focus: The way an invention works or is used.
  • Duration: 20 years from the filing date in the U.S
  • Requires detailed explanations, can be lengthy and more costly..

Trade Dress:

A New Beverage Bottle:

  • Design Patent: For the bottle’s unique shape.
  • Utility Patent: For a new spill-proof cap mechanism.
  • Trade Dress: The distinctive color combination and label design that consumers recognize.

A New Tech Device:

  • Design Patent: For a one-of-a-kind touchscreen layout.
  • Utility Patent: For the device’s innovative data processing technique.
  • Trade Dress: The distinctive shape and design elements that signal the brand.

How Long Does a Design Patent Last?

15 years from grant date in the U.S. 

How Much Does It Cost to Renew a Design Patent?

You cannot renew a Design Patent after 15 years. 

During the 15 year term, there are no maintenance fees.

Is a Design Patent Right for You?

  • Consider Product Uniqueness:If your product has a distinctive look that sets it apart, a design patent can protect it from imitation.
  • Market Differentiator: For products where appearance is a primary selling point, a design patent can be crucial.

Examples of Design Patents in Real Life:

  1. Initial Assessment:Our patent attorneys will evaluate if your design qualifies, ensuring it’s novel and non-obvious.
  2. Document Preparation:We will help detail every facet of your design with precise illustrations and specifications. 
  3. Application Process:Filing with the right details to the patent office.

Ongoing Support: Once filed, we’ll track the review process and address any queries from the patent office.

Common Design Patent Mistakes to Avoid:

  • Delay:File as soon as your design is final. The U.S. patent system is a first to file system. 
  • Poor Illustrations: Every view, every detail matters. Missing out can be costly.
  • Infringement Oversight:Always monitor the market for any unauthorized copies.

A design patent is a powerful tool to protect your product’s visual appeal. 

Whether you’re launching a new app or product, ensuring its appearance remains yours is crucial. 


In conclusion, understanding the key differences between utility and design patents is crucial for inventors and businesses looking to protect their innovations. By familiarizing yourself with the unique characteristics, application processes, and international protection options for both patent types, you can make informed decisions about the best way to safeguard your intellectual property. Remember, a well-rounded approach that considers both functional and ornamental aspects of your invention can provide comprehensive protection, ensuring that your creation remains exclusive to you and maintains its market value.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is an example of a design patent?

Design patents protect the unique form, shape, ornamentation and color of an object or creative work. Examples include the Coca-Cola bottle, Statue of Liberty, jewelry, automobiles, furniture, packaging, fonts, computer icons and emojis.

Are design patents worth it?

Considering that a design patent can provide protection against knockoffs and provide an advantage when selling your product, it can be a worthwhile investment if the value of your product’s appearance is significant.

What are the three requirements for design patents?

To be eligible for a design patent, the subject matter must be an article of manufacture and must meet the requirements of novelty, originality, and ornamentality as set out in section 171 of this title.

What is the difference between a design patent and a patent?

A utility patent protects the functional aspects of an article, whereas a design patent only protects its ornamental appearance, such as its shape, configuration and surface ornamentation. Utility patents protect the way an article is used and works, whereas design patents protect the way an article looks.

Can an invention be protected by both utility and design patents?

Yes, an invention can be protected by both utility and design patents if it features a unique structure/function and has distinctive ornamental design elements.

Contact us to get started on your next design patent application.