A design patent is a legal protection granted to the ornamental or aesthetic features of a product. The purpose of a design patent is to safeguard the visual appearance or look of a product, rather than its functional aspects. Design patents are intended to prevent others from copying or imitating the unique design of a product and provide exclusive rights to the owner of the patent. This protection can increase the market value of a product, discourage potential infringers, and provide licensing opportunities to generate revenue.

Design patents are an essential tool for protecting intellectual property and ensuring that the investment in the design of a product is not undermined by copying or imitation. Check out our article on the role of patents in startups and small businesses. In this article, we look at the benefits of design patents.

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Design Patents Protect the Appearance of Products

Protecting the look and feel of a product is crucial for several reasons. First and foremost, a product’s visual appearance can be a critical factor in attracting customers and generating sales. Consumers often make purchasing decisions based on a product’s design and aesthetic appeal, and a unique or distinctive design can set a product apart from competitors.

Moreover, a product’s design can be a significant investment for businesses. Designing and developing a product requires significant time, effort, and resources, and the design may be a critical aspect of the product’s success. Protecting the design through a design patent can ensure that the investment in the design is not undermined by copycats or imitators.

Design patents also provide legal recourse for owners of the patent in case of infringement. In the event that someone else copies or imitates the design, the owner of the patent can take legal action to stop the infringement and seek damages. This protection can be critical for small businesses and startups that may not have the resources to compete with larger companies that may attempt to copy their designs.

In summary, protecting the look and feel of a product through a design patent is essential for maintaining a competitive edge, protecting investments in product design, and ensuring legal recourse in case of infringement.

What is a Design Patent?

A design patent is a type of intellectual property protection granted to the ornamental or aesthetic aspects of a product. It covers the visual appearance or “look and feel” of a product, rather than its functional aspects. Design patents are granted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and provide exclusive rights to the owner of the patent for a period of 15 years from the date of grant.

There are several types of designs that can be protected under a design patent, including surface ornamentation, configuration or shape of an article, and any combination of these. For example, a design patent can cover the shape of a car or the pattern on a fabric.

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It’s important to note that a design patent is distinct from a utility patent. While a design patent covers the aesthetic aspects of a product, a utility patent covers the functional aspects. Utility patents protect inventions or discoveries, such as machines, processes, or chemical compositions, and provide exclusive rights to the owner for a period of 20 years from the date of filing.

In comparison, design patents are typically easier and less expensive to obtain than utility patents, as they do not require as much technical or scientific documentation. However, design patents are more limited in scope and only cover the visual aspects of a product, whereas utility patents can provide broader protection for the functional aspects of an invention.

Overall, design patents are a valuable tool for protecting the unique design and aesthetic features of a product and can provide a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

5 Benefits of Design Patents for a Product

  1. Exclusive rights to the design: A design patent provides the owner with exclusive rights to the design of the product for a period of 15 years. This means that no one else can legally manufacture, sell, or use the design without permission from the owner.
  2. Preventing others from using similar designs: A design patent can prevent others from creating products with similar designs, which can protect the product’s market share and profitability. This can be especially important for products with unique or distinctive designs that could be easily copied by competitors.
  3. Deterrent to potential infringers: The existence of a design patent can deter potential infringers from copying the design, as they could face legal action and damages for infringement. This can help protect the investment in the design and ensure that the owner’s exclusive rights are respected.
  4. Increased value of the product: A design patent can increase the market value of a product, as it provides a level of exclusivity and uniqueness that can attract customers and increase sales. It can also enhance the product’s brand image and reputation.
  5. Licensing opportunities: A design patent can also provide licensing opportunities for the owner. This allows the owner to generate revenue by licensing the design to others who want to use it for their products.

The benefits of design patents include several advantages, including exclusivity, protection from copycats, a deterrent to potential infringers, increased product value, and licensing opportunities. Obtaining the benefits of design patents can be a valuable investment for businesses that rely on the visual appearance of their products for success.

How to Obtain a Design Patent Protection

  1. Eligibility requirements: To be eligible for a design patent, the design must be novel, non-obvious, and non-functional. It must also be an ornamental design that has some aesthetic value or appeal. The criteria for design patents are the same as for utility patents.
  2. Filing a patent application: To file a design patent application, you need to submit the required forms and documentation to the USPTO. This includes a detailed description of the design, including patent drawings and any other relevant information. The application will also need to include an oath or declaration that the applicant is the true and original inventor of the design.
  3. Review process: After submitting the application, it will undergo a review process by the USPTO. This can take several months or even years, depending on the complexity of the design and the workload of the USPTO. During the review process, the USPTO may issue office actions, which are requests for additional information or changes to the application. The applicant can respond to these office actions to address any concerns raised by the USPTO. Read about the First-Time Filer Expedited Examination Program.
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You can find out more information about the design patent application process by checking out our what to expect in the design patent application process page.

4 Tips for a Strong Design Patent Application

  1. Work with an experienced patent attorney or agent who can help you navigate the process and ensure that your application meets all the requirements. The benefits of design patents need to be weighed against patent costs.
  2. Provide detailed drawings (or photos) and descriptions of the design to ensure that it is clear and understandable to the USPTO. The benefits of design patents are centered on the appearance, good drawings or photos are important in a design patent application.
  3. Conduct a thorough search of existing patents to ensure that your design is truly novel and non-obvious. The benefits of design patents can only be obtained if the invention is new and not obvious.
  4. Respond promptly to any office actions or requests from the USPTO to avoid delays in the review process.

4 Case Studies that Illustrate the Importance of Design Patents

  1. Apple vs. Samsung: In 2011, Apple filed a lawsuit against Samsung for infringing on its design patents related to the iPhone and iPad. The case went to trial, and in 2012, a jury awarded Apple over $1 billion in damages. However, the case was later appealed and the damages were reduced to $548 million.
  2. Crocs vs. USA Dawgs: In 2006, Crocs filed a lawsuit against USA Dawgs for infringing on its design patent for the iconic clog-style shoe. USA Dawgs argued that the patent was invalid, but the court disagreed and ordered USA Dawgs to stop selling the infringing shoes.
  3. Coca-Cola vs. Pepsi: In 1938, Coca-Cola filed a design patent for its iconic bottle shape, which featured a contoured waist and fluted base. In 1950, Pepsi introduced a similar bottle design, and Coca-Cola filed a lawsuit for patent infringement. Pepsi argued that the design was functional and not ornamental, but the court ruled in favor of Coca-Cola and ordered Pepsi to stop using the design.
  4. Nike vs. Skechers: In 2016, Nike filed a lawsuit against Skechers for infringing on its design patents for the Flyknit and Air Max shoe designs. The case was settled out of court, with Skechers agreeing to stop selling the infringing shoes and paying an undisclosed amount in damages.


Design patents provide a valuable tool for protecting the unique and distinctive look of a product. By securing exclusive rights to a design, a company can prevent others from using similar designs and gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace. Design patents also serve as a deterrent to potential infringers and can increase the value of a product.

It is important for businesses to understand the importance of protecting their intellectual property, including their designs, and to consider the benefits of design patents as a means of doing so. While the process of obtaining a design patent can be complex, it is worth the effort to protect the investment and effort put into developing a product.

In today’s competitive market, it is more important than ever to protect intellectual property and ensure that a business’s innovations are not copied or stolen by competitors. Therefore, we encourage businesses to explore the benefits of design patents and consider them as a tool for product protection.

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