Utility vs. Design Patent

Difference between utility vs. Design Patent. Design patent is generally the lesser-known and more modest compared to the utility patent. A utility patent usually has a detailed technical disclosure including claims, description and drawings. The claims of a utility patent list the elements of the invention and establish the scope of patent coverage. The design patent, by contrast, relies primarily upon the drawings for protecting the invention. The design patent has only one claim which generally refers to the drawings to claim the ornamental feature of the invention that is of interest. A utility patent is filed for novel, useful, and unobvious inventions, whereas a design patent does not focus on any practical feature; but rather on an ornamental design of an article of commerce.

The patent law provides that for granting a design patent to any person, he/she must have invented any new, original and ornamental design for an article of manufacture. A design patent protects only the appearance of the article and not structural or utilitarian features. An ornamental design may be embodied in an entire article or only a portion of an article, or may be ornamentation applied to an article.

As discussed, a design patent application may only have a single claim. Designs that are independent and distinct must be filed in separate applications since they cannot be supported by a single claim. Designs are independent if there is no apparent relationship between two or more articles.

To summarize for United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), in general terms, a “utility patent” protects the way an article is used and works (35 U.S.C. 101), while a “design patent” protects the way an article looks (35 U.S.C. 171). Both design and utility patents may be obtained on an article if invention resides both in its utility and ornamental appearance. While utility and design patents afford legally separate protection, the utility and ornamentality of an article are not easily separable. In some cases, articles of manufacture may possess both functional and ornamental characteristics.

The decision between filing a utility patent or a design patent is often based on what you are trying to protect. If you’re concerned about competitors copying the appearance of your concept, then apply for design patents.  If you want to protect the functional features of your concept, then apply for utility patents. In some cases, it may be appropriate to file design and utility patent applications.

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