Distinctions Between Utility and Design Patents

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office offers three types of patent protections to patentable subject matter: utility patents, design patents, and plant patents. The first two are the most common types of patents inventors and entrepreneurs pursue. There are quite a few distinctions between utility and design patents, and many inventors apply for both types of protection for one article. We’ll explore the general purpose of these two patent types in this blog and their potential interactions when they are combined with one article or product. 

Basics of Utility Patents

Utility patents are more costly to achieve and require much more detail in the applications. Additionally, much more than half of all utility patent applications are initially rejected by the USPTO. However, there are several times as many utility patents as design patents active in the U.S. Why? Because utility patents provide robust protections for the functionality of articles that encompass multiple claims; utility patents also last for 20 years, while design patents are in effect for 15 years. 

There is an abundance of in-depth information that goes into a utility patent application. Prior to submitting the application, inventors must perform a patentability search. The applicant must submit drawings and diagrams, in addition to a detailed explanation of how the article works. The application should explain how it is unique, yet also how it can be duplicated by other users. Simply put, explain how the utility patent invention or process works. 

Basics of Design Patents

For an introduction on the general contours of design patents, consider that many countries (apart from the U.S.) refer to this type of protection as “industrial designs.” Design patents in the U.S. protect certain visual qualities and ornamental features of an article. While design patents must have some usefulness beyond aesthetics, the functionality of design patents are not protected. Because of this limited protection (relative to design patents), the process for securing a design patent is much less cumbersome than the process for securing a utility patent. 

Does Your Invention or Product Need Both?

It’s quite possible. A notable example of a product that is attached to both utility and design patents is the smartphone. Apple, in particular, uses countless utility and design patents to protect their unique inventions and innovations. The shape and ornamental features of an iPhone, for example, cannot be separated in the minds of consumers from the purpose and utility of the phone itself. 

Van Court & Aldridge Can Help You Develop an IP Strategy

Few IP law firms are able to provide boutique service and large-firm proficiency like Van Court & Aldridge. We have enjoyed many strategic partnerships with both startups and large corporations to devise optimal patent strategies. Our firm has extensive experience aiding technology companies and giving them a competitive edge in the marketplace. 

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Van Court & Aldridge LLP

Van Court & Aldridge LLP is a boutique patent law firm that provides a wide range of patent-related legal services.

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