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1502    Definition of a Design [R-08.2012]

In a design patent application, the subject matter which is claimed is the design embodied in or applied to an article of manufacture (or portion thereof) and not the article itself. Ex parte Cady, 1916 C.D. 62, 232 O.G. 621 (Comm’r Pat. 1916). “[35 U.S.C.] 171 refers, not to the design of an article, but to the design for an article, and is inclusive of ornamental designs of all kinds including surface ornamentation as well as configuration of goods.” In re Zahn, 617 F.2d 261, 204 USPQ 988 (CCPA 1980).

The design for an article consists of the visual characteristics embodied in or applied to an article.

Since a design is manifested in appearance, the subject matter of a design patent application may relate to the configuration or shape of an article, to the surface ornamentation applied to an article, or to the combination of configuration and surface ornamentation.

Design is inseparable from the article to which it is applied and cannot exist alone merely as a scheme of surface ornamentation. It must be a definite, preconceived thing, capable of reproduction and not merely the chance result of a method.

¶ 15.42    Visual Characteristics

The design for an article consists of the visual characteristics or aspect displayed by the article. It is the appearance presented by the article which creates an impression through the eye upon the mind of the observer.

¶ 15.43    Subject Matter of Design Patent

Since a design is manifested in appearance, the subject matter of a Design Patent may relate to the configuration or shape of an article, to the surface ornamentation on an article, or to both.

¶ 15.44    Design Inseparable From Article to Which Applied

Design is inseparable from the article to which it is applied, and cannot exist alone merely as a scheme of ornamentation. It must be a definite preconceived thing, capable of reproduction, and not merely the chance result of a method or of a combination of functional elements (35 U.S.C. 171; 35 U.S.C. 112(a) and (b) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, first and second paragraphs). See Blisscraft of Hollywood v. United Plastics Co., 189 F. Supp. 333, 127 USPQ 452 (S.D.N.Y. 1960), 294 F.2d 694, 131 USPQ 55 (2d Cir. 1961).

1502.01   Distinction Between Design and Utility Patents [R-11.2013]

In general terms, a “utility patent” protects the way an article is used and works (35 U.S.C. 101), while a “design patent” protects the way an article looks (35 U.S.C. 171). The ornamental appearance for an article includes its shape/configuration or surface ornamentation applied to the article, or both. Both design and utility patents may be obtained on an article if invention resides both in its utility and ornamental appearance.

While utility and design patents afford legally separate protection, the utility and ornamentality of an article may not be easily separable. Articles of manufacture may possess both functional and ornamental characteristics.

Some of the more common differences between design and utility patents are summarized below:

  • (A) The term of a utility patent on an application filed on or after June 8, 1995 is 20 years measured from the U.S. filing date; or if the application contains a specific reference to an earlier application under 35 U.S.C. 120, 121, or 365(c), 20 years from the earliest effective U.S. filing date, while the term of a design patent is 14 years measured from the date of grant (see 35 U.S.C. 173).
  • (B) Maintenance fees are required for utility patents (see 37 CFR 1.20), while no maintenance fees are required for design patents.
  • (C) Design patent applications include only a single claim, while utility patent applications can have multiple claims.
  • (D) Restriction between plural, distinct inventions is discretionary on the part of the examiner in utility patent applications (see MPEP § 803), while it is mandatory in design patent applications (see MPEP § 1504.05).
  • (E) An international application naming various countries may be filed for utility patents under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), while no such provision exists for design patents.
  • (F) Foreign priority under 35 U.S.C. 119(a)-(d) can be obtained for the filing of utility patent applications up to 1 year after the first filing in any country subscribing to the Paris Convention, while this period is only 6 months for design patent applications (see 35 U.S.C. 172).
  • (G) Utility patent applications may claim the benefit of a provisional application under 35 U.S.C. 119(e) whereas design patent applications may not. See 35 U.S.C. 172 and 37 CFR 1.78(a)(4) .
  • (H) A Request for Continued Examination (RCE) under 37 CFR 1.114 may only be filed in utility and plant applications filed under 35 U.S.C. 111(a) on or after June 8, 1995, while RCE is not available for design applications (see 37 CFR 1.114(e)).
  • (I) Effective July 14, 2003, continued prosecution application (CPA) practice under 37 CFR 1.53(d) is only available for design applications (see 37 CFR 1.53(d)(1)(i) . Prior to July 14, 2003, CPA practice was available for utility and plant applications only where the prior application has a filing date prior to May 29, 2000 .
  • (J) Utility patent applications filed on or after November 29, 2000 are subject to application publication under 35 U.S.C.122(b)(1)(A), whereas design applications are not subject to application publication (see 35 U.S.C. 122(b)(2)).

Other distinctions between design and utility patent practice are detailed in this chapter. Unless otherwise provided, the rules for applications for utility patents are equally applicable to applications for design patents (35 U.S.C. 171 and 37 CFR 1.151).

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Last Modified: 03/27/2014 10:10:33