Design patent

Last updated
US design patent D48,160 for the original Coca-Cola bottle. Coke bottle patent.JPG
US design patent D48,160 for the original Coca-Cola bottle.

In the United States, a design patent is a form of legal protection granted to the ornamental design of a functional item. Design patents are a type of industrial design right. Ornamental designs of jewelry, furniture, beverage containers (Fig. 1) and computer icons are examples of objects that are covered by design patents.


A similar concept, a registered design, can be obtained in other countries. In Kenya, Japan, South Korea and Hungary, industrial designs are registered after performing an official novelty search. In the countries of the European Community, one needs to only pay an official fee and meet other formal requirements for registration (e.g. Community design at EUIPO, Germany, France, Spain).

For the member states of WIPO, cover is afforded by registration at WIPO and examination by the designated member states in accordance with the Geneva Act of the Hague Agreement.


Apple v Samsung showing the effect of solid and broken lines on infringement Apple v Samsung design patent.png
Apple v Samsung showing the effect of solid and broken lines on infringement

A US design patent covers the ornamental design for an object having practical utility. An object with a design that is substantially similar to the design claimed in a design patent cannot be made, used, copied or imported into the United States without the permission of the patent holder. The copy does not have to be exact for the patent to be infringed. It only has to be substantially similar. [2] Design patents with line drawings cover only the features shown as solid lines. Items shown as dotted lines are not covered. This is one of the reasons Apple was awarded a jury verdict in the US case of Apple v. Samsung. Apple's patent showed much of their iPhone design as broken lines. It didn't matter if Samsung was different in those areas. The fact that the solid lines of the patent were the same as Samsung's design meant that Samsung infringed the Apple design patent. [1]

Design patents are subject to both the novelty and non-obviousness standards of the patent code. However, because design patents are not measured based on the utility of the designs to which they are directed, there is an open question as to how to measure the non-obviousness of an ornamental design. [3]

Computer images

Both novel fonts and computer icons can be covered by design patents. Icons are only covered, however, when they are displayed on a computer screen, thus making them part of an article of manufacture with practical utility. [4] Screen layouts can also be protected with design patents. [5]

Publication of application

In China, Canada, Japan, South Africa, and the United States, [6] a design patent application is not published and is kept secret until granted.

In Brazil, the applicant can request that the application be kept in secrecy for a period of 180 days from the filing date. This will also delay the prosecution and granting of the application for 180 days.

In Japan, an applicant can request that a design be kept secret for a period of up 3 years after the registration has been granted.

Notable design patents

Other forms of protection

Utility patents

US utility patents protect the functionality of a given item. Providing the maintenance fees are paid, utility patents are generally valid for up to 20 years from the date of filing (with some exceptions). [10]

Design patents cover the ornamental nonfunctional design of an item. Design patents can be invalidated if the design has practical utility (e.g. the shape of a gear). Design patents are valid for 14 years from the date of issue if filed prior to May 13, 2015, or 15 years from the date of issue if filed on or after May 13, 2015. [11] [12] There are no maintenance fees.

"In general terms, a “utility patent” protects the way an article is used and works (35 U.S.C. 101), while a “design patent” protects the way an article looks (35 U.S.C. 171). The ornamental appearance for an article includes its shape/configuration or surface ornamentation applied to the article, or both. Both design and utility patents may be obtained on an article if invention resides both in its utility and ornamental appearance."MPEP - Distinction Between Design and Utility Patents

Copyright prevents nonfunctional items from being copied. To show copyright infringement, the plaintiff must show the infringing item was copied from the original. The copyrighted artistic expression must either have no substantial practical utility (e.g. a statue) or be separable from the useful substrate (e.g. picture on a coffee mug).

Design patents, on the other hand, cover the ornamental aspects of functional items from being infringed. One does not have to show that the infringing item was copied from the original. Thus a design that was arrived at independently can still infringe a design patent.

Many objects can be covered by both copyright and design patents. The Statue of Liberty is one such example. [13] [14]

Trademark and trade dress

Trademarks and trade dress are used to protect consumers from confusion as to the source of a manufactured object. To get trademark protection, the trademark owner must show that the mark is not likely to be confused with other trademarks for items in the same general class. The trademarks can last indefinitely as long as they are used in commerce.

Design patents are only granted if the design is novel and not obvious for all items, [15] even those of different utility than the patented object. An actual shield of a given shape, for example, can be cited as prior art against a design patent on a computer icon with a shield shape. The validity of design patents is not affected by whether or not the design is commercialized.

Items can be covered by both trademarks and design patents. The contour bottle of Coca-Cola, for example, was covered by a now expired design patent, U.S. Patent D48,160 , but is still however protected by at least a US registered trademark. [16]

See also

Related Research Articles

Intellectual property Notion of ownership of ideas and processes

Intellectual property (IP) is a category of property that includes intangible creations of the human intellect. There are many types of intellectual property, and some countries recognize more than others. The most well-known types are copyrights, patents, trademarks, and trade secrets. The modern concept of intellectual property developed in England in the 17th and 18th centuries. The term "intellectual property" began to be used in the 19th century, though it was not until the late 20th century that intellectual property became commonplace in the majority of the world's legal systems.

Patent Intellectual property conferring a monopoly on a new invention

A patent is a form of intellectual property that gives its owner the legal right to exclude others from making, using, or selling an invention for a limited period of years in exchange for publishing an enabling public disclosure of the invention. In most countries, patent rights fall under private law and the patent holder must sue someone infringing the patent in order to enforce his or her rights. In some industries patents are an essential form of competitive advantage; in others they are irrelevant.

A trademark is a word, phrase, or logo that identifies the source of goods or services. Trademark law protects a business' commercial identity or brand by discouraging other businesses from adopting a name or logo that is "confusingly similar" to an existing trademark. The goal is to allow consumers to easily identify the producers of goods and services and avoid confusion.

An industrial design right is an intellectual property right that protects the visual design of objects that are not purely utilitarian. An industrial design consists of the creation of a shape, configuration or composition of pattern or color, or combination of pattern and color in three-dimensional form containing aesthetic value. An industrial design can be a two- or three-dimensional pattern used to produce a product, industrial commodity or handicraft.

Industrial property is one of two subsets of intellectual property, it takes a range of forms, including patents for inventions, industrial designs, trademarks, service marks, layout-designs of integrated circuits, commercial names and designations, geographical indications and protection against unfair competition. In some cases, aspects of an intellectual creation, although present, are less clearly defined. The object of industrial property consists of signs conveying information, in particular to consumers, regarding products and services offered on the market. Protection is directed against unauthorized use of such signs that could mislead consumers, and against misleading practices in general.

Under United States law, a patent is a right granted to the inventor of a (1) process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter, (2) that is new, useful, and non-obvious. A patent is the right to exclude others, for a limited time from profiting of a patented technology without the consent of the patent-holder. Specifically, it is the right to exclude others from: making, using, selling, offering for sale, importing, inducing others to infringe, applying for an FDA approval, and/or offering a product specially adapted for practice of the patent.

Japanese patent law is based on the first-to-file principle and is mainly given force by the Patent Act of Japan. Article 2 defines an invention as "the highly advanced creation of technical ideas utilizing the law of nature".

The multinational technology corporation Apple Inc. has been a participant in various legal proceedings and claims since it began operation and, like its competitors and peers, engages in litigation in its normal course of business for a variety of reasons. In particular, Apple is known for and promotes itself as actively and aggressively enforcing its intellectual property interests. From the 1980s to the present, Apple has been plaintiff or defendant in civil actions in the United States and other countries. Some of these actions have determined significant case law for the information technology industry and many have captured the attention of the public and media. Apple's litigation generally involves intellectual property disputes, but the company has also been a party in lawsuits that include antitrust claims, consumer actions, commercial unfair trade practice suits, defamation claims, and corporate espionage, among other matters.

This is a list of legal terms relating to patents. A patent is not a right to practice or use the invention, but a territorial right to exclude others from commercially exploiting the invention, granted to an inventor or his successor in rights in exchange to a public disclosure of the invention.

The Design Piracy Prohibition Act, H.R. 2033, S. 1957, and H.R. 2196, were bills of the same name introduced in the United States Congress that would have amended Title 17 of the United States Code to provide sui generis protection to fashion designs for a period of three years. The Acts would have extend protection to "the appearance as a whole of an article of apparel, including its ornamentation," with "apparel" defined to include "men's, women's, or children's clothing, including undergarments, outerwear, gloves, footwear, and headgear;" "handbags, purses, and tote bags;" belts, and eyeglass frames. In order to receive the three-year term of protection, the designer would be required to register with the U.S. Copyright Office within three months of going public with the design.

Title 35 of the United States Code is a title of United States Code regarding patent law. The sections of Title 35 govern all aspects of patent law in the United States. There are currently 37 chapters, which include 376 sections, in Title 35.

Canadian patent law is the legal system regulating the granting of patents for inventions within Canada, and the enforcement of these rights in Canada.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to intellectual property:

Trademark Trade identifier of products or services

A trademark is a type of intellectual property consisting of a recognizable sign, design, or expression which identifies products or services of a particular source from those of others, although trademarks used to identify services are usually called service marks. The trademark owner can be an individual, business organization, or any legal entity. A trademark may be located on a package, a label, a voucher, or on the product itself. For the sake of corporate identity, trademarks are often displayed on company buildings. It is legally recognized as a type of intellectual property.

Typefaces, fonts, and their glyphs raise intellectual property considerations in copyright, trademark, design patent, and related laws. The copyright status of a typeface—and any font file that describes it digitally—varies between jurisdictions. In the United States, the shapes of typefaces are not eligible for copyright, though the shapes may be protected by design patent. Typefaces can be protected in other countries, including the UK, Germany, and France, by industrial design protections that are similar to copyright or design patent in that they protect the abstract shapes. Additionally, in the US and in some other countries, computer fonts—the digital instantiation of the shapes as vector outlines—may be protected by copyright on the computer code that produces them. The name of a typeface may also be protected as a trademark.

<i>Adobe Systems, Inc. v. Southern Software, Inc.</i>

Adobe Systems, Inc. v. Southern Software, Inc. was a case in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California regarding the copyrightability of digitized typefaces. The case is notable since typeface designs in general are not protected under United States copyright law, as determined in Eltra Corp. v. Ringer. Since that case, the United States Copyright Office has published policy decisions acknowledging the registration of computer programs that generate typefaces. In this case, the court held that Adobe's Utopia font was protectable under copyright and Southern Software, Inc.'s Veracity font was substantially similar and infringing.

The smartphone wars or smartphone patents licensing and litigation refers to commercial struggles among smartphone manufacturers including Sony Mobile, Google, Apple Inc., Samsung, Microsoft, Nokia, Motorola, Huawei, LG Electronics, ZTE and HTC, by patent litigation and other means. The conflict is part of the wider "patent wars" between technology and software corporations. The patent wars occurred because a finished smartphone might involve hundreds of thousands of patents.

Apple Inc. v. Samsung Electronic Co., Ltd. was the first of a series of ongoing lawsuits between Apple Inc. and Samsung Electronics regarding the design of smartphones and tablet computers; between them, the companies made more than half of smartphones sold worldwide as of July 2012. In the spring of 2011, Apple began litigating against Samsung in patent infringement suits, while Apple and Motorola Mobility were already engaged in a patent war on several fronts. Apple's multinational litigation over technology patents became known as part of the mobile device "smartphone patent wars": extensive litigation in fierce competition in the global market for consumer mobile communications. By August 2011, Apple and Samsung were litigating 19 ongoing cases in nine countries; by October, the legal disputes expanded to ten countries. By July 2012, the two companies were still embroiled in more than 50 lawsuits around the globe, with billions of dollars in damages claimed between them. While Apple won a ruling in its favor in the U.S., Samsung won rulings in South Korea, Japan, and the UK. On June 4, 2013, Samsung won a limited ban from the U.S. International Trade Commission on sales of certain Apple products after the commission found Apple had violated a Samsung patent, but this was vetoed by U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to patents:

Design infringement

Design is a form of intellectual property right concerned with the visual appearance of articles which have commercial or industrial use. The visual form of the product is what is protected rather than the product itself. The visual features protected are the shape, configuration, pattern or ornamentation. A design infringement is where a person infringes a registered design during the period of registration. The definition of a design infringement differs in each jurisdiction but typically encompasses the purported use and make of the design, as well as if the design is imported or sold during registration. To understand if a person has infringed the monopoly of the registered design, the design is assessed under each jurisdiction's provisions. The infringement is of the visual appearance of the manufactured product rather than the function of the product, which is covered under patents. Often infringement decisions are more focused on the similarities between the two designs, rather than the differences.


  1. 1 2 "Strong Design Patents: The Power of The Broken Line- Patents & Patent Law". 30 July 2013.
  2. U.S. Court of Appeals ruling, EGI vs. Swisa, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Sept. 22, 2008.
  3. Scott D. Locke, Design Patent Litigation: Is "Obvious to Try" Unavailable for Validity Challenges Under 35 U.S.C. 103?
  4. Resources, MPEP. "MPEP".
  5. "Nowotarski, Mark "Protecting the Look and Feel of Your Insurance Illustration with Design Patents", Insurance IP Bulletin, 15 August 2006".
  6. 35 U.S.C.   § 122(b)(2)(A)(iv)
  7. "American Legion Auxiliary Public Relations Handbook" (PDF). January 2005. p. 43. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2006-10-12. Retrieved 2006-09-12.
  8. In Brief: Amendment Extending Patent Passed in Senate. BNA Patent, Trademark & Copyright Journal, June 30, 2006.
  9. Raustiala, Kal; Sprigman, Chris (August 3, 2012). "Apple vs Samsung: Who Owns the Rectangle?". Retrieved August 7, 2012.
  10. "35 U.S.C. §154(a)(2)".
  11. "35 U.S.C. §173".
  12. "Patent Law Treaties Implementation Act (PLTIA) of 2012, Public Law 112–211, December 18, 2012" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on January 22, 2014. Retrieved July 1, 2014.
  13. "The LOC.GOV Wise Guide : It May Be the Biggest Statue Ever Copyrighted".
  14. File:U.S. Patent D11023.jpeg
  15. Mont, Du; J, Jason (25 August 2009). "A Non-Obvious Design: Reexamining the Origins of the Design Patent Standard". SSRN   1461390 .Missing or empty |url= (help)
  16. "Trademark Status & Document Retrieval".