Partial designs are a unique or particular portion of a full product design. Often, they are part of a product that cannot be separated, sold, or used independently.
The protection of partial designs is a practice utilized by design applicants to protect their designs in a manner that will better ensure that imitators cannot easily copy their design and avoid infringement through modification of minor or trivial commercial product details on an otherwise substantially identical design. Partial designs can also enable design applicants to be more efficient in their filings, by avoiding the need to file a separate application for each trivial variation in a product line.
Defining a partial design
In the United States, broken lines are commonly used in patent applications to (1) disclose the environment related to the claimed design and (2) define the bounds of the claim—that is, to define a partial design. Thus, a structure that is not part of the claimed design, but is considered necessary to show the environment in which the design is associated, may be represented in the submitted drawing by broken lines. This can include any portion of an article in which the design is embodied or applied to, that is not considered part of the claimed design, as well as the environment in which a design is used.
Global engagement on the protection of partial designs
In its interactions with foreign intellectual property (IP) offices and in international forums, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) promotes the benefits of the use of partial design protections as an important component of an effective industrial design protection system. Recent activity includes:
- ID5 study: Comparative study of partial designs as an effective means of protection for industrial design innovation (November 2016)
- USPTO event: International forum on protection of industrial designs (February 2021)