What is the difference between a Utility Patent and a Design Patent?

Photo by  Andy Mabbett  /  CC BY 4.0

A utility patent covers the useful, novel, and non-obvious elements of the claimed invention. A design patent covers the way the article looks; the so-called “ornamental design.” Design patents do not protect the way the design functions.

What goes into a design patent and a utility patent?

Design patents consist of high-quality figures showing the claimed design. A design patent claim is simple, typically following the formula “the ornamental design for [the design] as shown.” A design patent only protects what is shown in the figures.

Utility patents are much more substantial, and include a specification, claims, and drawings. Applications can be hundreds of pages, and contain hundreds of claims, although the typical application is much smaller. Claims are crucial in a utility patent and spell out what is covered by the utility patent, referred to as the “metes and bounds” of the patent. Unlike a design patent, the inventor gets what is claimed, and is not limited to what is shown in the figures. This means that your patent covers a much broader range of products than a design patent.

How long does it take to get a patent?

The United States Patent and Trademark Office keeps statistics on both utility and design patents. The table below summarizes the average time for both design and utility patents.

As you can see, design patents issue more quickly and at a higher rate than utility patents. These numbers show that the process of obtaining a patent can run anywhere from one to several years, and you have no guarantee of obtaining patent protection.

If you have a question about the patent process, or want more information, please give me a call.