Design patents protect the ornamental features of a functional invention. They cover the way an invention looks and appears. For instance, a design patent could protect the housing of a computer if that computer had a distinct appearance. Or a design patent may cover the shape of a unique TV remote control. Or a faucet spout and handle combination may have some interesting appearance that could be protected with a design patent.
A design patent application must be filed to obtain a design patent. Design patents contain only one claim, which references the drawings. Unlike a utility patent, in which the claims define the scope of the patent’s protection, in a design patent, the drawings define the scope of protection. Therefore, the drawings must be very carefully selected, assembled, and presented to ensure proper coverage of the invention.
A design patent can generally be prepared more quickly than a utility application. Because a design patent consists primarily of drawings, some of the work that is involved in preparing a utility application is not needed. That doesn’t mean that design patent protection is less serious, easier to prepare, or easier to obtain than utility patent application. Indeed, great care must be taken in constructing the request for a design patent and in the preparation of the drawings.
Design patent protection is not mutually exclusive of utility patent protection. This makes sense. An item may have both functional attributes and ornamental ones. In one of the above examples, a remote control might have a particular function that is new in the art, but it may also have a new shape. If so, it could be protected broadly by seeking both utility and design patent protection.
Consult with a local patent attorney when deciding whether design patent protection is appropriate for your invention. It may very well be, but it is possible that utility patent protection is also appropriate, or more appropriate, given the invention. Should you have any questions, please contact Arizona patent attorney Tom Galvani at 602-281-6481.