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Understanding Design Patent Considerations: A Quick Comprehensive Guide

When it comes to protecting the unique visual qualities of a product, design patents are an invaluable tool for inventors and designers. Unlike utility patents that safeguard the functional aspects of an invention, design patents focus on the ornamental appearance, including shape, configuration, graphical user interface, and surface ornamentation. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll delve into the key considerations for obtaining and enforcing a design patent, drawing insights from various authoritative sources.

The Scope of Protection Offered by Design Patents

Design patents are tailored to protect the aesthetic appeal of an article that has practical utility. It’s crucial to recognize that a design patent does not extend to the functional features of an item. Instead, it covers the ornamental aspects that give the product its unique visual identity. This distinction is vital when considering how to file for a design patent and what aspects of your design you can legally defend against infringement.

Infringement of Design Patents

Infringement occurs when another entity manufactures, uses, or sells a design that is substantially similar to the patented design, leading an ordinary observer to mistake one for the other. The “ordinary observer” test is the primary method for determining infringement, focusing on the overall impression created by the design rather than a detailed, feature-by-feature comparison.

Infringement analysis for design patents is distinct from that of utility patents. The seminal case of Gorham Co. v. White established the “ordinary observer” test, which remains the cornerstone for determining design patent infringement. According to this test, infringement occurs if an “ordinary observer,” familiar with the prior art, would be deceived into believing the accused design is the same as the patented design.

The Federal Circuit’s decision in Egyptian Goddess, Inc. v. Swisa, Inc. further refined this test, emphasizing the importance of considering the prior art when assessing the similarity of designs. Similar aspects in the prior art narrow the scope of the patented design.

Key Components of a Design Patent Application


The drawings are the heart of a design patent application. They define the scope of the patented design’s protection. They must accurately represent the design you wish to protect, showing all views necessary to fully convey the ornamental features.

Illustration Views in Design Patent Applications

Multiple views of the design, including top, bottom, front, back, left, and right, are necessary to fully disclose its appearance. A perspective view can enhance understanding, while broken lines in the drawings can indicate unclaimed parts or the environment related to the design.

Generally, it is best to submit white and line drawings without unnecessary color or photographs unless they are essential to the understanding of the design.

Dashed or broken lines play a crucial role in these drawings, as they indicate the portions of the design that are not claimed. See Desing Patent No. USD724367, the legs are in broken or dashed lines, so they are not part of the claimed design. By using broken lines, the applicant can illustrate the context or environment of the design without claiming those specific elements. This technique allows for flexibility in focusing the patent protection on the most distinctive and important ornamental aspects of the design, while also providing the opportunity to later claim the unclaimed portions in continuation applications. Broken lines can strategically create a boundary between the claimed ornamental design and the functional or unclaimed aspects, which can be essential during infringement litigation.


The title of a design patent application is more than just a label; it identifies the article of manufacture to which the design is applied and can limit the scope and enforceability of the patent.


The claim language is the legal boundary of the patent’s protection. It must be precise, clear, and correspond with the title and drawings to outline the design’s protected elements.

Continuation Applications

Continuation applications are a strategic tool in design patent prosecution, enabling patent owners to claim different aspects or embodiments of a design disclosed in the original application. This process allows for the broadening or alteration of the original claim scope without losing the benefit of the initial filing date, provided that the continuation application is filed while the original application is still pending.

Strategic Considerations:

When filing a design patent application, it’s crucial to consider the potential for future design modifications or variations. Including multiple embodiments in the original application can provide a solid foundation for future continuation applications. For example, filing drawings with broken lines can indicate that certain aspects of the design are unclaimed, leaving room for these aspects to be claimed in a subsequent continuation application.

Filing Continuation Applications:

The decision to file a continuation application often arises from market developments or competitive pressures. For instance, if a competitor introduces a product that doesn’t infringe on the original patent but comes close to the unclaimed features, a continuation application can be filed to specifically claim those aspects, thereby extending the scope of protection.

It’s important to note that continuation applications must be filed before the original patent is granted or the application is abandoned. The new application will undergo a separate examination process, and if approved, will result in an additional patent extending from the original filing date.

Continuation applications are strategic tools that allow for the protection of variations of the original design, providing flexibility and extended coverage for different versions of the design.

The Design Patent Application Process

The journey to securing a design patent is meticulous and requires careful attention to detail at every step. Here’s a breakdown of the process:

Initial Preparation

Before filing, it’s essential to ensure that your design is eligible for patent protection and that it meets all the criteria of being new, original, and ornamental. Conduct a thorough search of existing patents and products to confirm that your design is indeed unique and has not been disclosed to the public.

Drafting the Application

The application must include a detailed specification and precise drawings that fully illustrate the design. The specification should describe the design in general terms, while the drawings must show all features of the design. It’s crucial to include multiple views—top, bottom, front, back, left, right, and perspective—to cover all aspects of the design. The drawings must adhere to the USPTO’s strict guidelines, which dictate the proper format, size, and style of the illustrations.

Broken Lines and Shading

Use broken lines in the drawings to indicate the portions of the design that are not claimed and to define the context of the design. Proper shading should be used to show the contours and texture of the design, which can be critical in distinguishing your design from others.

Filing the Application

Once the application is prepared, it must be filed with the USPTO along with the required fees. As of the latest guidelines, the official filing fees are $1020 for large entities, $510 for small entities, and $255 for micro entities. It’s important to ensure that all paperwork is complete and accurate to avoid any delays in the examination process.

Examination by the USPTO

After filing, the application is assigned to an examiner who specializes in design patents. The examiner reviews the application to ensure compliance with legal standards and to assess the novelty and non-obviousness of the design. This process may involve correspondence with the applicant to clarify certain aspects of the design or to request amendments to the drawings or specification.

Response to Office Actions

If the examiner issues an Office Action, which may contain rejections or objections, the applicant must respond within the set time frame, typically six months. The response should address all the issues raised by the examiner and may include revised drawings or arguments to overcome the rejections.

Allowance and Issuance

Once the examiner is satisfied that the design meets all patentability requirements, the application is allowed. At this point, the applicant must pay the issuance fee—$700 for large entities, $350 for small entities, and $175 for micro entities—to have the design patent granted.

Patent Grant

After the issuance fee is paid, the USPTO grants the design patent, which confers exclusive rights to the design for 15 years from the date of grant. The patent is then published, and the patent number is assigned.

Maintenance and Enforcement

Unlike utility patents, currently, design patents do not require maintenance fees.

Patent owners must vigilantly monitor the market for potential infringements and take legal action to enforce their rights when necessary. Monitoring the market and enforcing design patent rights are critical components of a comprehensive intellectual property strategy. Vigilance in these areas ensures that the value of a design patent is maintained and that potential infringers are deterred or dealt with promptly. Here are some strategies for effective market monitoring and enforcement:

  • Patent Marking: Clearly mark your products with the patent number. Patent marking serves as a constructive notice to the public and can enhance your ability to recover damages in infringement lawsuits. It also reinforces the perception of your products as well-protected and innovative, potentially deterring would-be infringers.
  • Regular Market Surveillance: Establish a routine to regularly review marketplaces, both online and offline, for products that may infringe on your design patent. This can include monitoring competitor activities, attending trade shows, and staying informed about new product launches in your industry.
  • Use of Technology: Employ software tools and services that scan the internet for images and products similar to your patented design. Image recognition technology can be particularly useful in identifying potential infringements across e-commerce platforms.
  • Educate Your Distributors and Customers: Inform your distribution network and customer base about your design patents. Educated stakeholders can serve as additional eyes on the market and may alert you to potential infringements.
  • Recordation with Customs: In the United States, record your design patents with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to prevent the importation of infringing products. Customs officials can seize infringing goods at the border, providing an effective enforcement mechanism.
  • Collaborate with Industry Groups: Join industry associations that combat counterfeiting and infringement. Collective efforts can be more effective in addressing widespread or systemic infringement issues.
  • Engage Professionals: Consider hiring a professional firm that specializes in IP monitoring and enforcement. These firms can provide comprehensive services, including market watch, legal analysis, and enforcement actions.
  • Cease and Desist Letters: Upon identifying a potential infringement, consider sending a cease and desist letter to the infringer. This initial communication can often resolve the issue without resorting to litigation.
  • Legal Action: If infringement persists, be prepared to take legal action. Litigation can be a powerful tool to enforce your rights, and a court can grant remedies such as injunctions and monetary damages.
  • Maintain a Portfolio: Keep detailed records of your design patents, including registrations, assignments, drawings and specifications. A well-organized portfolio can expedite the enforcement process when an infringement is detected.
  • Stay Informed: Keep abreast of changes in design patent laws and enforcement practices. Understanding the legal landscape can help you adapt your enforcement strategies accordingly.

By implementing these strategies, patent owners can proactively monitor the market and enforce their design patent rights, ensuring that their intellectual property remains a valuable asset to their business.


Design patents are a specialized form of intellectual property protection that requires careful consideration of various factors, from the application process to enforcement. By understanding these considerations, designers and inventors can effectively safeguard the unique visual attributes of their products.

For those interested in exploring real-world examples of design patents, the USPTO provides access to various patents, such as those for Apple’s electronic devices, Nike’s footwear designs, and furniture designs.

By adhering to the guidelines outlined in this guide and consulting with experienced IP attorneys, you can navigate the complexities of design patents and ensure your creative works are fully protected.

For guidance on patenting your designs contact our office at (888) 666-0062 or click here to schedule an Initial Discovery Session online. We are here to help you protect your innovative work in the field of artificial intelligence.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice or a substitute for obtaining legal advice from an attorney.