Introduction to Design Patents
For years you've been tinkering with the objects in your house to give them more pizzazz. The kitchen clock has been cleverly reshaped to look like a cup of coffee. You've refitted your lamps with shades funky enough to match the retro theme of a room. Even the pet's food bowls have had a serious makeover by the craft fairy (that's you). Now, you're thinking it's time to bring your creations into the marketplace. But before you make your presentation to that nationwide furniture gallery or hop on over to the local flea market, you wonder if there's a way to make sure you keep the credit for your creations. After all, who knows if in the future no place will feel like home without a coffee cup clock?
There are a couple of avenues you can consider to protect your rights. You may apply to register a copyright if your works fall into certain artistic classes (such as literature, sculpture, paintings or photography). However, copyrights afford somewhat narrow rights since any minor change to your design could result in the loss of protection. More importantly, the more the creation has a utilitarian function outside of your specific design, the less likely it may qualify as a purely creative work (which is the typical subject of copyright protection). A design patent, on the other hand, is intended to protect the design of an industrial article. It covers the aesthetic features of your creation and, under U.S. patent law, another object that's found to be substantially similar to yours in design would be infringing.
That's where the advantages of a design patent come in. Its broader scope offers more protection than a copyright because, unlike copyright protection, direct copying of your invention is not required for a finding of infringement. Also, the application process is far less complex than a utility patent's. There's also the satisfaction and peace of mind of being able to claim patent protection when it comes time to discuss and market your product.
Take note: there are distinct differences between what sort of inventions are eligible for design versus utility patents. It's important to decide which is right for you. If your creation can be protected by either a design patent or copyright, you may want to look into both options. Learn more about copyrights and utility patents.
In any case, LegalZoom's design patent education center provides you with the resources you need to understand the functions and advantages of a design patent. If you decide to seek this type of protection, you can complete our online design patent questionnaire in about 30 minutes. Simply answer a few questions, and we complete your application along with our affiliated patent agents. LegalZoom can even help you obtain the technical illustrations to accompany your application.