Utility and Design Patents – Awards with a Difference | SmithAmundsen LLC


Patent protection gives inventors exclusive rights to their inventions for a period of time, if they disclose their invention to the public in sufficient detail and if the invention is novel and unobvious. The two most common types of patents issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) are utility and design patents. A utility patent protects the way an item is used and functions – the function. A design patent protects the appearance of an article – the ornamental aspect. You can see an example of this just by pulling out your cell phone or other mobile device.

A utility patent protects inventions related to the function of an article. For example, a wireless communication utility patent application can be used to protect the idea of ​​converting audible sound into digital data and transmitting that data from one location to another wirelessly between a mobile device and a base station. The claims of the patent application may relate to a structure of an electrical system capable of performing the stated functions. In this example, the send and receive function of the mobile device is the claimed utility of the invention. Generally, if the USPTO determines that the combination of electrical hardware and software performing these functions is novel and unobvious, the invention may be protected by a utility patent.

A design patent protects inventions related to the appearance of an item. For example, a mobile phone design patent application can be used to protect the appearance of the device. The cell phone may have rounded edges with flat front and back surfaces. The design feature of rounded edges may qualify for design patent protection if they are primarily ornamental and not primarily functional. Thus, the inventor cannot obtain both a design patent and a utility patent covering the rounded edge feature of the phone design.

Sometimes it is clear that a particular feature is primarily ornamental and not driven by functional design, but often functional and design aspects can be related. A patent attorney or patent agent can help you determine whether to seek utility patent protection or design patent protection – or to file for utility and design patent protection for distinct characteristics of the article.


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