Six Things to Know about Design Patents

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Patents give inventors intellectual property rights by excluding other people from creating, using, or selling an invention for a set period of time. In return, inventors publish an enabling disclosure for the invention, which provides basic technical information about the invention to the public. There are actually several types of patents including plant patents, design patents, and utility patents. Most people think of utility patents when they think of the types of intellectual property that is protected with a patent. For example, machines, software, or manufactured items. However, design patents also play an important role in protecting the inventor’s right to their product. What distinguishes a design patent from other types of patents? How long do design patents last? What is and is not protected by a design patent? To answer these questions and more, here are eight quick facts about design patents:

  1. Design patents protect the ornamental design of a manufactured article (e.g., automobiles, computer peripherals, smartphones, fonts, computer icons, etc.) . In other words, they protect what an article looks like. However, they do not protect a product’s function.

  2. As of May 23, 2015, U.S. design patents have a patent term of 15 years from the Issue date. For design patents filed before May 23, 2015, the patent has a term of 14 years.

  3. S. design patents can only include a single claim.

  4. The first U.S. design patent was issued to George Bruce on November 9, 1842 for a new typeface. Instead of drawings, the typeface was described in words, which is unusual since today, drawings are required as part of the patent process.

  5. Drawings are the most important element of a design patent. Design patents require drawings that have enough “views” of the invention to show its entire appearance. This usually requires six angles, or drawings, of the front, back, top, bottom, left and right, unless every angle is identical with items such as a golf ball.

  6. S. design patent applications generally do not publish before they grant.

  7. Design patent applications are on the rise, however, they still only make up a very small portion of the patent applications submitted to the USPTO, averaging 01% of the total patent applications filed in the U.S. in 2019.

  8. Coca Cola’s distinctive bottle shape is one example of a well-known design patent. The patent was granted over 100 years ago in November of 1915 to the Root Glass Company of Terre Haute, Ind The original patent is displayed at the National Archives Museum in Washington, D.C. Other famous patents include the Statue of Liberty and Apple’s iPhone (which Apple received more than $900 million in damages from Samsung for violating the iPhone design patent!)

Coke Bottle

Patent Drawing for Coke Bottle

Design patents may not be what first comes to mind when hearing the word “patent,” but they account for some of our favorite aesthetics. From the iconic Coca Cola glass bottle to the original iPhone and the laugh-crying emoji 😂, it’s fair to say that we have design patents to thank for some of our favorite objects and quirky inventions!

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