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  • Writer's pictureJeremy A. Briggs

Understanding the Differences Between Utility and Design Patents

When it comes to protecting intellectual property, patents play a vital role. Two primary types of patents are utility patents and design patents. Understanding the differences between these types is crucial in determining which one is most suitable for your invention. Let's explore the distinctions between utility and design patents.


A team of mobile app engineers discussing differences of utility and design as they point to drawings of the application

Purpose and Scope

1. Utility Patents:

Utility patents are the most common type of patent and are granted for new and useful processes, machines, compositions of matter, or improvements of known inventions. Utility patents protect the functional aspects of an invention, focusing on how it works, its structure, and its specific uses. Utility patents provide a broad scope of protection, covering the entire concept and various embodiments of the invention.


2. Design Patents

Design patents, on the other hand, are granted for new, original, and ornamental designs applied to an article of manufacture. They protect the visual appearance, shape, configuration, and surface ornamentation of a product. Design patents focus on the aesthetic elements of an invention, excluding functional aspects. They provide narrower protection, specifically covering the unique visual design.


Invention Protection Difference Between Design and Utility Patents

1. Utility Patents:

Utility patents protect the functionality, structure, and practical application of an invention. They are suitable for innovations that involve new methods, processes, machines, devices, chemical compositions, or significant improvements in these areas. Utility patents are often sought for technological advancements, software algorithms, mechanical devices, pharmaceutical compositions, and more.


2. Design Patents

Design patents, on the other hand, protect the ornamental appearance of an article. They are suitable for inventions where the visual design is the key differentiating factor. Design patents are commonly sought for unique product designs, decorative patterns, and visual elements that enhance the aesthetic appeal of a product. They are relevant for industries such as fashion, industrial design, consumer products, and decorative arts.


Application Process

1. Utility Patents:

Obtaining a utility patent typically involves a detailed application that includes a description of the invention, claims defining the invention's scope, and supporting drawings or diagrams. The patent application undergoes examination, where the patent office evaluates its novelty, non-obviousness, and usefulness. Utility patents often require a more rigorous examination process.


2. Design Patents

The application process for a design patent involves preparing precise drawings or images of the design. Detailed descriptions are not necessary unless required to clarify certain design elements. Design patents also undergo examination, focusing on novelty and non-obviousness in the visual appearance of the design. The examination process for design patents tends to be less complex compared to utility patents.


Duration of Protection

1. Utility Patents:

Utility patents provide protection for up to 20 years from the date of filing. However, maintenance fees are required to keep the patent in force, typically due at regular intervals during the patent term.


2. Design Patents:

Design patents provide protection for up to 15 years from the date of grant. Unlike utility patents, design patents do not require maintenance fees.


Choosing the Right Patent

Deciding between a utility patent and a design patent depends on the nature of your invention and the aspects you seek to protect. If your invention involves unique functionality, structural elements, or innovative processes, a utility patent is appropriate. On the other hand, if your invention's distinctive feature lies primarily in its ornamental design, a design patent would be more suitable.


Consulting with an experienced intellectual property attorney is highly recommended to determine the most appropriate type of patent for your invention. They can provide guidance, conduct a thorough analysis of your invention, and assist in navigating the patent application process.


In conclusion, utility and design patents differ in their purpose, scope, and the aspects of an invention they protect. Utility patents cover functional aspects, while design patents focus on ornamental design. Understanding these differences is crucial in choosing the right type of patent to protect your invention effectively.

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