The Legal Basis for Patents
Congress established the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), which grants utility patents, design patents, and plant patents under the authority of our Constitution “to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”
The USPTO to grants property rights in the form of utility, plant, and design patents. As a prior blog post explained, utility patents protect new and nonobvious processes, machines, and compositions of matter, or new and nonobvious improvements thereof. In this post, we’ll focus on a basic understanding of design patents and where to best use them.
What does a Design Patent Protect?
A design patent protects the new and nonobvious visual ornamentation of a manufactured item. Take a watch face for example: setting aside the question of whether the watch structure is entitled to utility patent protection, a design patent would protect the visual ornamentation of the watch against a competitor’s accused watch if an ordinary person, conversant in the prior art, using ordinary purchasing attention would believe that the competitor’s watch is substantially the same as the patented design.
The Importance of Design Patent Drawings
A design patent is entitled to one claim, and distinct designs must be filed in separate applications. So, if two designs have different shapes or give different visual impressions, they must be divided into separate design patent applications. Moreover, the scope and subject matter of the design patent is communicated by the design patent drawings (and by clarifying language, if any). So, for our watch example, a proper design patent claim would read: “The ornamental design for a watch as shown.” And, if one intended to protect only one aspect of the watch as the claimed design, that intention must be communicated by the drawings. So, if one intended to claim only the ornament of bezel and crown and pusher but not the dial and interior subdials, one would have to submit one or more drawings showing the dial and interior subdials and other non-claimed elements in broken lines.
Why Design Patents?
Design patents have come into favor recently for at least two reasons:
- Increased awareness that consumer purchasing decisions are strongly influenced by form and not just function. Apple Inc., for example, has several design patents that protect different aspects of the visual ornamentation of the iPhone®.
- The marginal cost of one or more design patents can bear significant leverage against obvious knockoffs and design patents are relatively inexpensive as compared to utility patents and can deter or prevent knock-offs.
Design Patent Protection for Useful Inventions
Provided that your design is distinct, the acquisition of a design patent is the culmination of design effort, design patent application, and examination for statutory requirements that your design also be novel and nonobvious. If you have what appears to be a design worth protecting, please seek us out.
As always, every legal situation is different and must be evaluated on its own merits. If you need help with your intellectual property needs, please send us a message. We have registered patent attorneys with skills in all technologies, and attorneys licensed in Arizona, Connecticut, and New York. Venjuris PC can handle federal intellectual property matters in any U.S. state and assist with international matters. For even more information, be sure to connect with us on Facebook.