Utility Patent Vs. Design Patent
In general terms, a “utility patent” protects the way an article is used and works, while a “design patent” protects the way an article looks. 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.
Utility patents may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture, or compositions of matters, or any new useful improvement thereof. By far, most patent applications filed at the USPTO are utility applications.
Design patents may be granted to anyone who invents a new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture.
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.
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.
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Source: The United States Patent and Trademark Office.