Design Patents

Oftentimes, over the course of development of an invention, the invention takes on a unique and distinguishing visual appearance. Sometimes the visual appearance compliments and supports the functionality of the invention, and the visual appearance can be viewed as a novel aspect itself. In such scenarios, design patent protection can be a valuable asset. Design patents are able to cover a wide range of visual aspects of an invention, such as the shape and contour of individual components as well as the overall appearance of assemblies including many different components. Additionally, as more devices become automated or integrated with electronic features, the pace of development of graphical user interfaces to support these devices has accelerated. Design patent coverage can even be an effective route for protection of digital content such as user interface layouts, animations, and icons. Even in crowded technology fields in which acquiring utility patent protection can be challenging, design patent protection provides an alternative route for coverage and can deter potential imitators. In some cases, the useful function of a product may be directly tied to the shape and contour of the product, such that protecting the product appearance effectively results in some indirect protection of the product function. At FIG. 1, we encourage including design patent coverage alongside utility coverage for a broad and comprehensive patent portfolio.