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Design Patents Vs. Utility Patents

There are three main types of patents: utility, design and plant. Each type of patent has its own purpose, its own unique protections and its own set of rules. However, all patents grant their holders the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale or selling the patented invention in the United States.

Determining what type of patent application to file — as well as when and how to file that application — are important and complex issues that can greatly impact the success or failure of a patent application. At Kaufhold & Dix Patent Law, our patent lawyers have the experience and knowledge necessary to help clients determine which type of patent is right for them, prepare and file applications that are accurate and correct, and follow the patent process through to its completion — all with free initial consultations and complete service flat fees with no surprises.

Utility Patents — For Inventions

Utility patents are by far the most common type of patent. In 2015, over 288,300 utility patents of U.S. origin were filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). In contrast, there were just over 39,000 design patents and 1,100 plant patents filed in 2015.

Utility patents are available to anyone who invents or discovers:

  • A new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture or composition of matter.
  • A new and useful improvement of any of the above items.

A utility patent application includes a specification, claims and drawings. Any protection you obtain will be defined by the claims and the protection provided may be very broad depending on the claim language allowed by the USPTO.

Utility patent protection lasts for 20 years the date of filing of the patent application. Patent protection covers only the territory within which the patent was granted (e.g., the United States), not the entire world. However, a United States patent does also cover importing into and exporting out of the United States.

Design Patents — For Ornamental Designs

Design patents, which have a 15-year term from their grant date, cover the way an invention looks and protect only the ornamental appearance of a device. The application itself includes drawings, a description of the drawings and a single claim. Unlike a utility patent which provides protection based on the words used in the claims, the protection offered by a design patent is limited to what is shown explicitly in the drawings.

In some instances, design patents are easier to obtain than utility patents. If it is determined that your invention will most likely not qualify for utility patent protection — or your invention lies in a new artistic design for an old device — you may want to consider filing for design protection.

Contact our attorneys today for a free consultation — we'll tell you what you need to know, no obligation, and then it's completely up to you whether to proceed. Call our offices in the Twin Cities, Minnesota, at 612-216-1161, or in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, at 605-334-1571. You can also send us an email online.