A design patent is granted to whoever invents a new, novel, and nonobvious ornamental design for an article of manufacture. Rather than protecting the utility of an invention, design patents are focused on protecting its appearance. Compared to utility patents, design patents are relatively affordable and quick to obtain. When used effectively, they can be a powerful tool to increase the scope and diversity of an intellectual property portfolio.
Overall, for the past eight years, the total number of design patents granted in the United States has been dwarfed by that of utility patents; however, the design patent grants have steadily been rising, with design patent grants increasing 63% since 2011.
In particular, design patents directed to graphic user interfaces (GUIs) and display screens are leading the upward charge. Just last year, design patents counted for roughly 8% of all patents granted and assigned to Google—with most directed to display screens.
Typically, technology companies ranging from app developers to thermostat manufacturers, direct large amounts of capital and resources into making aesthetically pleasing GUIs for their customers. These GUIs create a large portion of the overall user experience. While the software and source code behind these products and services is an integral part of an intellectual property portfolio, the aesthetic product is sometimes even more valuable.
Because of the breakneck speeds at which innovation in the technology industry progresses, having a method of protecting GUIs quickly, efficiently, and affordably is critical. While utility patents directed to the software behind the GUIs have to navigate the Alice/Mayo framework carefully, design patents can typically progress with much greater ease and fewer bars to patentability.
Design patents are an effective and valuable form of intellectual property protection that should be considered, especially when faced with a unique and aesthetically pleasing GUI. GUI’s can easily become one of the most valuable pieces of intellectual property in any patent portfolio. However, no matter what industry you may be in, design patents should always be considered as a great way to diversify your portfolio and become an industry-wide leader.