Main Guide: Patent
Main Guide: Intellectual Property
A design patent is a form of legal protection granted to the ornamental design (i.e. the aesthetic qualities) of a functional item. In short, design patents protect the non-functional aspects of an invention. Design patents are commonly used to protect jewelry, furniture, and beverage containers.
The concept of a design patent is formally recognized in the United States, Kenya, Japan, South Korea, Hungary, and the majority of the European Community.
Definition of a Design
As per the USPTO:
"A design consists of the visual ornamental characteristics embodied in, or applied to, an article of manufacture. Since a design is manifested in appearance, the subject matter of a design patent application may relate to the configuration or shape of an article, to the surface ornamentation applied to an article, or to the combination of configuration and surface ornamentation. A design for surface ornamentation is inseparable from the article to which it is applied and cannot exist alone. It must be a definite pattern of surface ornamentation, applied to an article of manufacture.
In discharging its patent-related duties, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO or Office) examines applications and grants patents on inventions when applicants are entitled to them. The patent law provides for the granting of design patents to any person who has invented any new, original and ornamental design for an article of manufacture. A design patent protects only the appearance of the article and not structural or utilitarian features."
Ex: the design patent application for the 1915 Coca-Cola bottle
Public Publication of Design Patent Application
Countries have different rules concerning when and if a design patent application will be kept secret until published.
In China, Canada, Japan, South Africa, and the United States, an application for a design patent is kept secret and will not be published until it is granted.
In Brazil, applicants can request that the design patent application be kept secret for a period of 180 days immediately following the filing date. However, this also delays the prosecution and granting of the application for 180 days.
Japan allows applicants to request that the design be kept secret for 3 years after the design patent has been granted.