When startups begin talking about intellectual property, the focus is often on utility patents. These are patents that cover the creation of a new or improved—and useful—product, process or machine. Generally speaking, a utility patent protects the way an article is used and works, but a design patent protects the way an article looks.
To give you some idea about how design patents may be overlooked by startups, as of 2015, the U.S. Patent Office had issued over 9.2 million utility patents, but only about 746,000 design patents. Design patents should be considered as a component of a comprehensive IP strategy for every startup.
Can’t Patent an Idea
First, remember that you need more than just a great idea… your idea must be formulated as a tangible asset or design, so you should have a prototype or detailed descriptions and drawings.
Using a Design Patent
A great application for a design patents is to provide your startup with significant value as a supplement to its utility patents—or as a back-up when utility patent protection isn’t available, such as for updated designs of existing products to prevent competitors from stealing a new design.
While software utility patents are available in the U.S., after a 2014 U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, obtaining utility patent protection for software-related inventions is more difficult and less certain. A design patent can be a viable option to protect certain features of software-related inventions, like graphical user interfaces. For these technology innovations, the design is the selling point of the product, and protection of the design needs to be the strongest protection for the product. And in some instances, products don’t have features that qualify for a utility patent, so a design patent may be the best and only protection available.
The term of a design patent is 15 years from grant for a design patent, compared to 20 years from filing for a utility patent. Design patents are frequently obtained more quickly than utility patents, especially when you work with a knowledgeable IP attorney.
It’s not uncommon for a novice entrepreneur to build up his or her startup and fail to consider an intellectual property strategy. Design patents, and patents in general, can be vitally important to the overall success of a startup company. Startups need to leverage patents as a part of their overall intellectual property strategy to protect their innovations and products.
A major mistake for many startup owners is not thoroughly understanding the patent process, what it means to their company, and failing to act quickly.
Another costly rookie mistake when contemplating filing a patent is failing to work with an experienced intellectual property practitioner.
It’s a complicated process, and the law is always changing.
Startups should leverage the use of design patents to protect their product designs. An IP strategy should incorporate design patent protection to create exclusive markets for products which will complement the protections created by utility patents and trademarks.
Speak with an experienced intellectual property legal professional as you work to build your startup and discuss the types of intellectual property protection you may need.
Attorney Michael Ahmadshahi, PhD, focuses on patents, intellectual property, copyright, and trade secrets in Irvine, California. The Michael Ahmadshahi, PhD, Law Offices are also located in Beverly Hills and Sherman Oaks. Call us toll free at (800) 747-6081 or direct at (949) 556-8800 or email firstname.lastname@example.org and let us help you with your intellectual property questions and the IP strategy for your startup.