These days software is legion. As a patent attorney, virtually all patent applications I have filed this year involved computer software in some form. While most people think of utility patents when they think about IP protection, there is another important branch of patent that is not as well known. If you’re a startup, your UI design is one of the most important assets you have. As a result, you should take steps to protect it. In addition to a UI design patent, you may want to consider protecting your app’s graphic elements, including icons.
A design patent is a form of intellectual property protection. It protects the appearance of a product, like a computer user interface. Unlike utility patents, which protect things that perform functions, designs are protected for an extended period of time. Design patents can also be covered by copyrights and trademarks.
What is a Design Patent?
A design patent is a type of patent that is granted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to protect the unique visual characteristics of an invention. This includes the shape, configuration, pattern, or ornamentation of an article of manufacture, or any combination of these features.
Design patents protect the non-functional aspects of an invention, such as its appearance, and are distinct from utility patents, which protect the functional aspects of an invention, such as its structure, composition of matter, or method of operation.
To be eligible for a design patent, an invention must be new, original, and ornamental. The design must also not be obvious to someone having ordinary skill in the field, and it must not have been published more than one year before the patent application is filed.
The term of a design patent is 15 years from the date of grant. Design patents are relatively quick and inexpensive to obtain compared to utility patents, but they also have a narrower scope of protection.
Design patents are often used to protect the appearance of consumer products, such as clothing, jewelry, furniture, and household goods. They can also be used to protect the design of industrial products such as machinery, tools, and vehicles.
Some famous design patents include:
- The Coca-Cola Bottle: The iconic Coca-Cola bottle design is protected by a design patent. The bottle’s unique shape and contours have been a trademark of the brand for over a century.
- The Louboutin Red Sole: Christian Louboutin’s famous red soles on high heels are protected by a design patent. The red soles have become a recognizable and iconic feature of the brand.
- The Apple iPhone: The iPhone’s iconic design, including its rounded edges and large touch screen, is protected by several design patents.
- The Rolex Crown: Rolex’s iconic crown logo is protected by a design patent. The logo features a crown with the Rolex name written above it.
- The Nike Swoosh: The Nike Swoosh logo is protected by a design patent. The simple yet recognizable design has become a symbol of the brand and is widely recognized around the world.
- The Lego Brick: The design of Lego bricks is protected by several design patents. The interlocking bricks have become an iconic feature of the brand and have become a staple in the toy industry.
It’s worth noting that many design patents are not as widely known as utility patents, as they are associated with specific industries or products. They are also not as widely reported in the media as utility patents.
Design Patent Protection for UI
A design patent can be issued to the original, ornamental design of an article of manufacture, such as a computer user interface. However, it is not a good way to protect things that don’t function. The most common type of design patent is a patent for a graphical user interface. This type of patent can cover the icon, the transitions, the layout, the animations, and other components of a graphical user interface.
To apply for a UI design patent, you need to decide on your scope. Typically, you can either protect the entire graphical user interface, or you can slice it into several parts. For example, you can apply for a design patent for the screen itself, the interface itself, the icon, and the transitions between them.
You will have to decide what elements of your UI to dot out, and you will have to be careful to avoid overlap with any existing design patents. One advantage of a design patent is that it is less expensive than a utility patent.
Design patents can be used to protect the visual design of a user interface (UI), including the layout, colors, shapes, and other elements that make up the overall look and feel of the interface. Design patents can be a useful tool for protecting a UI, as they can provide a stronger level of protection than a utility patent, which only covers the functional aspects of the interface.
To obtain a design patent for a UI, an applicant must submit a patent application that includes detailed drawings or photographs of the UI, along with a written description of the design. The drawings or photographs must be detailed enough to show the various elements of the design and how they are arranged.
Once the patent application is filed, it will be reviewed by the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to determine if it meets the requirements for a design patent. If the USPTO determines that the application is eligible for a design patent, the patent will be issued.
There are several sample design patents for UI available on the USPTO website, you can check them to get an idea of the different elements that are typically included in a design patent application.
It’s important to note that design patents only protect the appearance of an object and not its function, and they also have a shorter term than utility patents, usually 15 years from the date of grant.
what is needed to file a UI design patent application
To qualify for a design patent, your design must be original, non-obvious, and not obvious to an ordinary observer. It must also be independent of functionality.
To file a UI design patent application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), the following items are typically needed:
- Drawings or photographs of the UI design: The drawings, screenshots or photographs of the UI should be detailed enough to show the various elements of the UI design and how they are arranged. They should also be in black and white and comply with the USPTO’s rules and guidelines.
- A written description of the design: This should include a brief summary of the design and its intended use, as well as any other information that may be relevant to the application.
- A completed patent application form: The patent application form should include information about the inventor(s), the title of the invention, and the applicant’s contact information.
- A fee: A fee is required to file a patent application with the USPTO. The fee varies depending on the type of application and the size of the applicant’s company.
- An oath or declaration: The inventor(s) must sign an oath or declaration stating that they believe they are the original inventor(s) of the design and that they are the person(s) legally entitled to apply for the patent.
- Prior art search: It is recommended to conduct a prior art search to make sure that similar designs have not been patented before. This can be done by searching the USPTO’s database or by hiring a patent search firm.
- An executed power of attorney: If the application is filed by an attorney, an executed power of attorney is needed.
Before you file for a design patent, you need to make sure that your application is complete. Include all the required information and ensure that the title describes the article that you are attempting to patent.
If your application is rejected, you have to respond to the Office Action. Normally, your response includes written arguments and amendments to your claims. Your goal is to convince the examiner that your application should be granted.
Once your application is accepted, the process of getting a design patent can take between six and twelve months. However, if you are able to expedite the process, the waiting time will be much shorter.
After you have been granted a design patent, you will be able to block imports and if your design is deemed to infringe on another company’s design, you will be able to receive injunctive relief.
Unlike other forms of intellectual property, a design patent will provide you with a legal right to stop imports of your product. In addition, a design patent can give you damages if another product infringes your design patent.
A graphical user interface (GUI) is an important differentiator in the marketplace. Companies such as Apple and Samsung invest significant resources in designing their products to create a unique user experience. The UI’s look and feel can be the difference between success and failure. It’s crucial to protect your GUI.
If you have an innovative GUI design, you can protect it with a design patent. You should consult a lawyer or other expert for assistance in preparing and filing for a design patent. Design patents are a relatively inexpensive way to protect your UI and your intellectual property portfolio.
It’s important to note that the process of obtaining a design patent can be complex and it’s recommended to consult with a patent attorney to ensure that the application meets all the necessary requirements and to increase the chances of success.