Design patents are granted to anyone who has invented any new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture. These patents apply only to the appearance of an article and do not cover an article’s structural or utilitarian features. The subject matter of a design patent can relate to either the configuration of an article, the surface ornamentation of an article, or both. This is different from utility patents in that utility patents protect an article’s structure and the way an article is used and works as opposed to how it looks. With regard to an article of manufacture, an applicant can apply for both a design patent and a utility patent. However, there may be some difficulty in separating the utilitarian aspects of an article from the ornamental features. If the design of an article of manufacture is created out of its functionality, then it is improper statutory subject matter for a design patent.
A design patent can be granted with regard to an entire article, a portion of an article, or ornamentation applied to an article. Additionally, applications only contain one claim and can only support one design. Because of that, separate applications must be filed for each independent and distinct design.
Examples subjects for design patents include new and unique designs for packaging, fonts, or computer icons. One of the more notable design patents includes the design for an iphone. Four different design patents related to the iphone became a subject in multiple interconnected disputes between Apple and Samsung. While the two parties ultimately settled, it took at least seven years and millions of dollars to resolve.
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