Design Patents and Utility Patents: A Guide

Intellectual Property (IP) law can get pretty complex, especially since there are many different ways that you can go about protecting an idea (mainly patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets).

Even just in the realm of patents alone, there are still many specific types of patents that address different types of ideas. For instance, patenting the way something works and patenting how something looks cover two completely different areas.

Two significant patent types that any entrepreneur should no about before diving into things are design patents and utility patents, both of which have their own uses as well as their own strengths and weaknesses.

Let’s get started on the basics to help gain a better understanding of the differences!

Why Patent?

Before we dive into the specifics about design and utility patents, it’s important to first establish the importance of patenting an idea in the first place.

Patenting an idea will ensure that you are able to introduce your original concept to market without being bombarded my competition before you can even get off the ground, something particularly important for start-ups or new entrepreneurs who don’t have all of the funding and resources that already existing ventures will have.

Without a patent, your idea risks becoming public knowledge that any entrepreneur can grab onto and use to develop their own version.

J.D. Houvener, a patent attorney at Bold Patents, always encourages new entrepreneurs to reach out to educated attorneys for advice before proceeding with their idea:

“The market is incredibly competitive, and you have every right to profit off of your hard and original work. Taking a moment to talk things through with a patent attorney, even if just for a free consultation, can really help give you insight about next steps and how you should handle your ideas. That said, it’s important to make sure you have a general grasp of patenting yourself so that you know what to ask and what to look for before escalating things to professionals.”

Essentially, when you know you have a great idea to pursue, make sure you do it right. Don’t jump the gun and rush to market without the proper protection or you may end up regretting it later!

Design Patents

If you’ve been thinking about filing a design patent, it’s probably because there is a significant weight to the appearance of the idea you are looking to protect.

Inventors should seek out design patents when they have a justifiably protectable design. This consists of the visual ornamental characteristics embodied in (or applied to) an article of manufacture.

For instance, if the product you are looking to protect is something like a Christmas ornament whose primary purpose is looking a certain way, you’ll want to look into protecting things like its shape or configuration through a design patent.

It is important to note that a design patent doesn’t protect the mechanical structure since its goal is to protect the appearance as the unique quality.

In terms of the technical side of things, design patents last for 15 years, take about 6-12 months to receive and are the cheaper option between the two types discussed here.

Utility Patents

If you are looking to file a utility patent, however, you probably have something with a particular function that you want to guard and protect.

Inventors can be awarded a utility patent upon creating a new or improved process, machine, manufacture or composition of matter. Basically, utility patents are for protecting the structure, composition or function of an invention.

Something that utility patents have over design patents is that they protect the way in which an article is used. Regardless of whether the design or appearance changes, the invention will still be protected as long as the function is still present.

The downside with utility patents is that they are typically a great deal more expensive and difficult to obtain when compared to design patents. Additionally, rejections and need for reapplications are much more common here, so the process can be a bit more tedious.

In Summary

No matter what you do, make sure you look into protecting your unique ideas so that you can make the most of them before facing intense competition.

If you take anything away from this, just remember that design patents mostly focus on a unique look and appearance while utility patents tend to focus on unique functions.

Different products and ideas will require different types of protection, so hopefully this provides some insight on these two common patent types! For more great and informative topics, be sure to browse through the rest of our posts and check back for updates.

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