By Wayne Caroll, Inspired Idea Solutions
In the United States, patents are a vital form of legal protection for inventors and companies who have created new and innovative products. Patents grant exclusive rights to the inventor for a certain period of time, allowing them to prevent others from making, using, or selling their invention without their permission. However, not all patents are the same. In fact, there are two main types of patents in the US: utility patents and design patents. While both provide protection for intellectual property, they serve different purposes and have distinct differences. In this article, we will explore the difference between design patents vs. utility patents in the USA.
1. What is a Design Patent?
A design patent is a type of patent that protects the ornamental design or appearance of a functional item. This includes the shape, configuration, pattern, or ornamentation of an object. In simpler terms, a design patent protects the way a product looks, rather than how it works. For example, the design of a smartphone or a piece of furniture can be protected by a design patent. Check how to register a design patent in the US in our guide.
Design patents are governed by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and are granted for a period of 15 years from the date of issuance. To obtain a design patent, the applicant must submit a detailed drawings or photograph showing the design applied to a product along with a description of the drawings. The USPTO will then examine the application to ensure that the design is new and non-obvious. Unlike utility patents, which require a higher level of inventiveness, design patents only require a low level of inventiveness.
2. What is a Utility Patent?
A utility patent is a type of patent that protects the functional aspects of an invention. This includes machines, processes, compositions of matter, and improvements to existing products. Essentially, utility patents protect how an invention works and its usefulness. For example, a utility patent may be granted for a new type of engine or a process for creating a new medication.
Utility patents are also granted by the USPTO and have a longer term of protection, lasting for 20 years from the date of filing. However, obtaining a utility patent is a more rigorous and complex process compared to a design patent. The applicant must provide a detailed description of the invention, including how it works, and patent claims with the elements of the invention describing details that are different from existing products. The USPTO will then conduct a thorough examination to determine if the invention is novel, non-obvious, and useful.
3. Statistics and Common Industries for Design Patents and Utility Patents
According to the USPTO, in 2020, there were over 350,000 utility patent applications filed, while only around 40,000 design patent applications were filed. This shows that utility patents are much more common than design patents. In terms of industries, the top five industries for utility patents were computer and communication technology, medical technology, electrical machinery, and biotechnology. On the other hand, the top five industries for design patents were consumer goods, furnishings, packaging and containers, clothing, and toys/games.
There are fewer design patents even though design patents require a lower level of inventiveness and tend to be less expensive to obtain compared to utility patents. Design patents, however, are narrowly focused on the way the product looks, which can be easy for competitors to change in a competing product and therefore avoid infringement. Design patents are very useful for highly advertised products, where the consumer has an expectation of the look of the product before they buy it.
While both utility patents and design patents provide protection for intellectual property in the United States, they serve different purposes and have distinct differences. Utility patents protect the functional aspects of an invention while design patents protect the ornamental design or appearance of a product. Utility patents require a higher level of inventiveness and have a longer term of protection compared to design patents. As an inventor or company, it is important to understand the differences between these two types of patents and determine which one is best suited for your invention.
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