What Are Design Patents?

In short, a design patent covers the way something looks.  The U.S.P.T.O. has this to say about design patents: “A design [patent] consists of the visual ornamental characteristics embodied in, or applied to, an article of manufacture. Since a design is manifested in appearance, the subject matter of a design patent application may relate to the configuration or shape of an article, to the surface ornamentation applied to an article, or to the combination of configuration and surface ornamentation.”

Another useful way to think about design patents is to compare them to utility patents.  Utility patents generally cover the way an article works and is used.  A design patent only covers the look of an item.  Often, a product that reaches store shelves will be covered by a variety of patents, both design and utility.  The idea is to create a “patent thicket” that will keep competitors from copying the look, feel and functionality of a product.

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