A design patent protects the ornamental features of an invention. While a utility patent provides protection for the way an article is used or works, a design patent protects the way it looks.
For design patents, the law requires that the design be of patentable subject matter. In the case of a design patent, this means the design must be embodied in or applied to an article or manufactured good. In addition to being of patentable subject matter, the invention must be new, original and ornamental.
Because the design patent only covers the ornamental portions of the article, it provides only limited protection and lasts for a shorter duration than a utility patent, approximately 15 years versus 20 years. Because it may be difficult to separate the design features from the overall product, damages for infringement of a design patent can provide a strategic benefit in the case of infringement. Therefore, it is highly recommended to contact a patent attorney who is familiar with the differences between Utility and Design Patents.