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What is a design patent?

A design patent is a patent that protects any novel and nonobvious ornamental characteristics of an article, such as configuration or shape. A simple way to describe what a design patent protects is that it protects how an article looks.

This can include a variety of different inventions and areas of industry, from jewelry to cellphones. Additionally, one strategy for developing your patent portfolio is applying for both a utility patent and a design patent for the same invention. The utility patent may cover the functionality of the invention, while the design patent covers the ornamental design of the invention.


One Example: Nintendo Co. Ltd

Nintendo Co. Ltd has a vast patent portfolio to cover many aspects of their intellectual property, such as their famous Nintendo Switch. For example, not only does Nintendo Co. have utility patents to cover how a Nintendo Switch functions, but they also have several design patents for the design of the famous gaming console.

Nintendo Switch patent image.


In USD819696, Nintendo Co. Ltd has patented ornamental design for a computer. A simple way to describe what a design patent protects is that it protects how an article looks. In design patent figures, the patent protection covers the design displayed in “solid lines” and does not cover anything displayed in “dotted lines.” In the case of USD819696, most aspects of the design shown are claimed in solid lines.


Design Patent Expiration

Generally, a design patent permits its owner to stop others from making, using, or selling something that is substantially the same as the design claimed in the patent for a period of 15 years from the date of issuance. Design patents issued from applications filed before May 13, 2015, have a 14-year term.

In the case of USD819696, the design patent was issued on June 5th, 2018 and is set to expire on June 5th, 2033. In some cases determined by the USPTO, the term for a patent may be adjusted for a variety of reasons, such as prosecution delays. It is important to confirm the expiration dates of your patents by checking the first page of your issued patent document.


Advantages and disadvantages of a design patent

While the majority of applications filed at the USPTO are utility patents, design patents can be extremely valuable. A design patent takes less time to prepare, and the review period for design patents is relatively much shorter than that of utility patents (though it still takes years). Additionally, if your invention only includes novelty in how it looks instead of how it works, it’s more likely you’ll receive design patent protection. This can potentially save time and money.

One major disadvantage of a design patent is that the protection granted is limited. A design application only allows for one variation of design in each application, i.e., the design displayed in the “solid lines.” Additionally, a design patent cannot protect how an article functions.



The protection coverage of a utility patent and design patent is different. It is important to evaluate what aspects of your invention you would like to stop others from copying. Additionally, the time and costs of utility and design patents are different. As an entrepreneur, you will need to decide whether pursuing a utility and/or design patent fits within your plans for your business.

Either way, it is important to protect your invention and potentially stop others from infringing on your ideas.

Author: Savanah McLendon.

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