Raleigh: 4801 Glenwood Avenue, Suite 200, Raleigh, NC 27612.  

(919) 825-3309  

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Albert Minn is a patent attorney with 10 years of experience practicing before the United States Patent and Trademark Office.  

What’s the difference between a design patent and a utility patent?  What does a design patent actually protect?  Are design patents worth their costs?  These are some questions that all inventors and entrepreneurs should consider as part of their innovative development. 

What’s the difference?

Utility patents are more well-known between utility and design patents.  And although design patents are often overlooked, they provide a unique layer of protection for particular intellectual property portfolios.  Utility patents, as their name suggests, protect the utilitarian aspects of an invention (i.e., how it works), whereas design patents protect the ornamental aspects of a particular article.  Other differences include the length of terms of protection.

What do Design Patents protect?

In three simple words: how it looks.  Design patents protect the visual ornamentation of a particular product (i.e., how it looks) and can help protect you from others copying the appearance of your product.  When looking to protect the way a product looks, a design patent may be all that is required.  Although design patents afford narrow protection compared to utility patents, design patents are extremely effective at preventing direct knockoffs.  Courts have defined an ordinary observer test for determining whether a product infringes upon a design patent.  Further, design patents can be used to protect cover not just the entire visual appearance of a product, but also a portion of the visual appearance of a product. This allows for protecting the most unique portion of the product even though more usual or unimportant portions of the product exist.

Can I file for both patents?

In some cases, it may be necessary to protect both the functional aspects of an invention (i.e., utilitarian aspects) and the visual appearance of the invention (i.e., ornamental aspects).  In such cases, filing for a utility patent concurrently with a design patent should be considered. 

If you have additional questions about design patents or want to get started on the patent process, give Grell & Watson a call at (919) 825-3309!