Many people are confused about design patents as compared to utility patents or do not even know that design patents exists. Adding to the confusion is that both design and utility patents may be used to protect the same invention. So when should you use a design patent and when should you use a utility patent? You may answer that question by asking yourself the question "Is what I am trying to protect function or decorative?" For example, say that you have come up with a new pattern of tread that you want to use on a snow tire that is to be sold. Lets say that your new tread pattern provides your tire certain advantages on snow over current snow tires. Since your new snow tire is more "functional" than current snow tires then you will want to obtain a utility patent on your new tread pattern. Conversely lets say that your new tread pattern gives your snow tire the "appearance" that it performs well on snow but in reality it doesn't; It just looks really cool, rugged, and mean. Since your new pattern is decorative then you will seek a design patent on it. Beware, using this example say that you know that your new tread pattern provides better performance on snow over other snow tires but to cut costs you seek a design patent on your new pattern. If your competitor can provide that your new pattern is functional then your design patent will be revoked and you will not have the opportunity to go back and get a utility patent on the tread pattern; in effect you will lose all rights to any sort of patent.
Below are design patents for the Crocs shoe, Chrysler Crossfire, Apple iPad screen layout, and a tire tread pattern.
Design patents are a cost-effective mechanism to add value to a company and combat the counterfeiting of products when protecting ornamental features. For more details contact me.