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Utility Patent vs. Design Patent

What is the difference between a utility patent and a design patent? When a person applies for or is granted a patent, the application is categorized as a utility, a design, or a plant patent. It is important that inventions are properly filed as belonging to one of these categories. According to the USPTO website,

“A utility patent may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture, compositions of matter, or any new useful improvement thereof. A design patent may be granted to anyone who invents a new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture.”

In other words, a utility patent is granted if the invention provides a new function, unlike one provided by any invention already in existence. The design patent is granted when the invention’s external appearance is the novel component of the invention. If the exterior design is unlike any design that exists, then the application should be filed as a design patent.

                Can an invention be categorized as both a design patent and a utility patent? Yes, this happens. Often, inventors create inventions that meet both of these standards. When this occurs, the invention is filed using two separate applications under both categories. Oftentimes, the invention provides users with a new function, as well as a novel external appearance, which may or may not be crucial to its function. It can be difficult to differentiate, but if both the appearance and the function are new, the inventor can apply for both patents.

                What is the lifespan of the patent when filed as a utility and/or design? When filing a design patent, the invention has a lifespan shorter than that of a utility patent. The design patent lifespan is 14 years from the date the patent is finally issued. A utility patent is granted a lifespan of 20 years from the date the patent was first filed. These lifespan periods are referred to as patent term. Patent rights are guarded or protected for a certain amount of time so individuals can further promote, make, or sell their inventions without having to worry about the same invention being released by someone else. Patent protection prevents other inventors from stepping over boundaries that other inventors have already claimed. If a patent goes abandoned, however, the protection ceases to exist any longer. In order to avoid this, individuals must stay current on paying their maintenance fees to the USPTO.

                As an inventor, it is important that ideas and rights are protected. Filing for a patent is one of the first steps toward protecting an idea. To best understand design vs. utility patents, an individual should ask himself or herself “Is this invention providing a new function?” OR “are the ornamental features what make my invention novel?” These questions aid in determining under which category an inventor should file a patent application. It is important that inventors are aware of these categorizes of patent applications in order to securely protect their inventions to the full

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