- The most important and intuitive difference is that a design patent protects the way an article looks and a utility patent protects the way an article works and how it is used.
- As for the process you need to go through in order to obtain it, design patents are easier and cheaper to obtain than utility patents.
- If you have created something that it is unique both in design and utility, you may obtain both a design and a utility patent.
Besides design and utility patents, you can also obtain a plant patent which, easy to guess, is meant to protect new varieties of plants. The difficulty is not deciding if you need a plant patent or a design/utility patent, since the first has a very specific and easy to evaluate destination. The difficulty usually appears in choosing between a design and a utility patent.
Because obtaining a patent costs both time and money, it is important to start with a comprehensive research stage meant to offer you all the information you need to make the right choice.
As defined by the U.S. patent law, a utility patent will offer protection for “any new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof.“
On the other hand, a design patent is meant to protect any “new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture.”
For example, if you have created a new type of machine (e.g. an engine), a manufactured article (such as an engine part) or a new method of manufacturing something (e.g. a new technique or process of creating a specific engine part or an entire engine) than your creation is mostly oriented on utility and it will be more appropriate to protected by obtaining a utility patent. If your creation is also about and engine or a car, but it is defined by a new and unique shape which is not strongly connected with its functionality and the way it works, you should think about getting a design patent.
Besides the relatively obvious difference, design and utility patents differ by the possible application types, the length of patent terms, required application elements and, of course, the examination process.
Generally, inventions qualify for only what type of protection and it is important to be very clear on what type of patent you wish to obtain. There are some cases when an invention can qualify for two types of protection such as design patent and copyright, design patent and trademark, design and utility patent. But these are rare cases.