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Difference Between Utility and Design Patents

by Terrifio Team | March 1, 2023

Difference Between Utility and Design Patents

If you’re an inventor, you’re probably aware of the importance of protecting your intellectual property. Patents are a crucial aspect of this process, as they allow you to establish ownership of your invention and provide the right to assert your rights against others who copy it without your permission. However, there are different types of patents that you can apply for, and it’s essential to understand the differences between them to make an informed decision. In particular, you might be wondering about the difference between utility and design patents. While both provide legal protection for your invention, they serve different purposes and offer different benefits. In this post, we’ll explore the key differences between utility and design patents, what they cover, and when to choose one over the other. By the end of this article, you’ll have a clearer understanding of which type of patent might be best suited to your invention and how to go about securing it.

Understanding Utility Patents: What Are They and How Do They Work

A utility patent is a type of patent that protects the functional aspects of an invention. It is granted for new, useful, and non-obvious inventions such as machines, processes, compositions of matter. Utility patents are the most common type of patent issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and are valid for 20 years from the date of filing. To obtain a utility patent, the inventor must provide a detailed and specific description of the invention, along with any relevant drawings or diagrams. The description should be written in clear and concise language, and must demonstrate how the invention is new, useful, and non-obvious. In addition, the inventor must also make at least one claim, which is a legal statement that defines the boundaries of the invention and identifies what is being protected. Once a utility patent is granted, the patent owner has the exclusive right to make, use, and sell the invention for 20 years, and can assert those rights against others who make, use, or sell the invention without permission. This can be a valuable tool for inventors who wish to commercialize their invention and protect their investment.

The Scope of Utility Patents: What Can Be Patented?

Utility patents are designed to protect functional aspects of inventions. The subject matter that can be patented with a utility patent is quite broad and includes machines, processes, articles of manufacture, and compositions of matter. Machines can refer to anything that is mechanically or electronically operated, from a simple tool to a complex piece of machinery. Processes can refer to methods of performing tasks or making things, such as a manufacturing process or a method of data analysis. Articles of manufacture can refer to any physical object that has been created by humans, such as tools, furniture, or vehicles. Compositions of matter can refer to chemical compounds, such as drugs or new materials. It’s worth noting that not everything can be patented with a utility patent, however. Laws of nature, and abstract ideas cannot be patented. Additionally, the invention must be new, useful, and non-obvious to qualify for a patent. Understanding the scope of what can and cannot be patented with a utility patent is crucial for inventors, as it can help them determine if their invention is eligible for protection and how best to describe and claim it in their patent application.

What Is a Design Patent and How Does It Differ from a Utility Patent?

While utility patents protect the functional aspects of an invention, design patents protect the ornamental or decorative aspects of an invention. Specifically, a design patent covers the non-functional, aesthetic elements of a product, such as the shape, pattern, or configuration of a product’s surface. It is intended to protect the unique appearance of an invention rather than the way it works. Design patents are granted for a term of 15 years from the date of grant, and they can be obtained for any new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture. he design must be visible during normal use, which means that the design must be something that can be seen by the consumer. The process for obtaining a design patent is similar to that of a utility patent, where the inventor must file an application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), which includes a detailed description of the design and a carefully prepared set of drawings illustrating the design. Design patents can be an important tool for inventors who want to protect the unique appearance of their product and have the ability to assert their rights against others who copy it without their permission.

The Function of Design Patents: What Can and Cannot Be Patented?

The function of a design patent is to protect the unique, non-functional aspects of an invention, such as its aesthetic design or visual appearance. As such, design patents can be granted for any new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture, meaning that the design must be something that is visible and contributes to the overall look of the product. For example, a unique design for a cell phone case or a new design for a piece of jewelry could both be eligible for a design patent. However, it’s worth noting that there are certain limitations to what can and cannot be patented with a design patent. Specifically, a design patent cannot be used to protect functional aspects of an invention. This means that a design patent cannot be used to protect how a product works or its underlying technology, which would instead be covered by a utility patent. Additionally, designs that are too similar to existing designs or designs that are considered to be obvious or lacking in originality may not be eligible for a design patent. Understanding what can and cannot be patented with a design patent is important for inventors, as it can help them determine if their invention is eligible for protection and how best to describe and claim it in their patent application.

Comparing Utility and Design Patents: Key Differences and Similarities

Utility patents and design patents are two distinct types of patents that offer different forms of protection for inventors. Here are some key differences and similarities between the two:

Differences:

  • Utility patents protect the functional aspects of an invention, while design patents protect the ornamental or decorative aspects.
  • Utility patents are granted for a term of 20 years from the date of filing, while design patents are granted for a term of 15 years from the date of grant.
  • To be eligible for a utility patent, an invention must be novel, non-obvious, and useful, while design patents only require that the design be new, original, and ornamental.
  • The process for obtaining a utility patent is generally longer and more complex than that of a design patent, due to the higher standard of novelty and nonobviousness required.

Similarities:

  • Both utility patents and design patents are granted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
  • Both types of patents require a detailed application and examination process.
  • Both types of patents offer exclusive rights to the inventor to assert against others who make, use, sell, or import the invention without their permission.
  • Both types of patents can be used to generate revenue through licensing, sale or assertion of patent rights.

Overall, the choice between a utility patent and a design patent depends on the specific nature of the invention and the type of protection that the inventor is seeking. Inventors should carefully consider the differences and similarities between the two types of patents before deciding which type of patent is right for their invention.

When to Choose a Utility Patent over a Design Patent (and Vice Versa)

When deciding whether to choose a utility patent over a design patent or vice versa, it’s important to consider the nature of the invention and the type of protection that the inventor is seeking. Here are some factors to consider when deciding between a utility patent and a design patent:

When to Choose a Utility Patent:

  • If the invention is primarily functional and solves a practical problem, a utility patent is likely the best choice. Utility patents protect the functional aspects of an invention, including its structure, composition, and method of use.
  • If the invention has multiple functions or features that make it innovative, a utility patent may be a better choice, as it can protect all of the functional aspects of the invention in one patent.
  • If the invention has a long lifespan or a potential for high market value, a utility patent can in some cases offer stronger and broader protection than a design patent.

When to Choose a Design Patent:

  • If the invention is primarily ornamental or decorative, a design patent may be the best choice. Design patents protect the unique and non-functional aspects of an invention’s appearance.
  • If the invention has a short lifespan or is unlikely to have significant market value, a design patent may be a more cost-effective and efficient way to protect the invention.
  • If the inventor wants to emphasize the aesthetic or visual elements of the invention, a design patent can provide a strong legal protection for the appearance of the invention.

Overall, the choice between a utility patent and a design patent depends on the specific nature of the invention and the inventor’s goals. It’s important to consult with a patent attorney or patent agent to determine the best type of patent to pursue, as the decision can have significant implications for the scope of protection and the commercial success of the invention.

In conclusion, understanding the difference between utility and design patents is crucial for any inventor or business looking to protect their intellectual property. While both types of patents offer legal protection, they differ significantly in terms of what they protect and how they work. By understanding the scope and function of utility and design patents, inventors can make informed decisions about how to protect their innovations and maximize their commercial potential. It’s important to work with a qualified patent attorney or patent agent to ensure that the patent application is well-drafted and meets the requirements of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Ultimately, obtaining a patent can be a valuable asset for a business or individual, providing legal protection and a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

This article should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion on any specific facts or circumstances. The contents are intended for general informational purposes only, and you are urged to consult your patent professional on any specific questions you may have.