Utility Vs Design Patents: Which One is Right for Your Product?

Patent types fall into two main categories: Utility and Design. Like the names imply, they protect different things. A Utility Patent provides broader protections. However, a Design Patent is no less useful. In fact, it can be a powerful business tool. 

Utility Patents

  • Protects broadly the function, structure, and interior workings of an invention.
  • Lasts 20 years from the earliest filing date, but you must pay maintenance fees. 
  • To be awarded a Utility Patent, you must meet a high threshold. Accordingly, the application process is complex, often expensive, and can take 2-3 years for approval.
  • A single utility patent can contain multiple claims and protect many different versions of your invention. For example, if a competitor creates something different in design but deemed similar in function, the competitor will likely be infringing your patent.

Design Patents

  • Protects the invention’s unique visual qualities. 
  • The application is less complicated and costs far less. The process takes about six months to 1 year, and when filled correctly, is less likely to be rejected.  
  • Lasts 15 years and does not require maintenance fees.
  • Design patents may be relatively easy to get around by changing the overall appearance of a competing product. 

Do you need both?

If your invention has a unique structure/function coupled with a unique ornamental design, then you should consider obtaining both. You will then have overlapping protection. A few famous examples that have benefitted from having both utility and design patents include the George Foreman Grill, still a market dominator after all these years, and the Squatty Potty (hear me out). The inventors behind this simple plastic footrest aggressively assert both their utility and design patents and make millions accordingly. Perhaps the most legendary example is the iPhone. Apple spent months creating the iPhone design, rejecting hundreds of ideas. Eventually, they created a device with a rectangular front face with rounded corners, a raised rim, and (with its first version) a grid of 16 colorful icons on a black screen. Apple has design patents for all of these features. When Samsung created their version, Apple took them to court and battled for seven years over alleged infringements. The second Apple v. Samsung damages trial in 2018 ended in a $5.3 million verdict for infringing Apple’s utility patents and a whopping $533 million for infringing Apple’s design patents.  

Have a filing strategy ready

If you are interested in filing both utility and design patents for your invention, you will want to have a carefully constructed strategy. You will want to file in a particular order, in a cost-effective way, allowing you to focus on detailed responses and increases your chances of being successful at each stage. I work with Inventors and business owners like you to ensure that your intellectual property is fully protected. Before you go it alone, let’s have a conversation. I am here to help you determine if your invention is eligible for a patent, if it would benefit from both kinds, and what tactics are best to get you to the finish line.

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