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Utility Patent vs Design Patent

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Understanding the distinction between utility patents and design patents is crucial for inventors and businesses in safeguarding their innovations. This blog post offers a detailed comparison of utility patents and design patents, guiding you through their unique characteristics and applications. With expertise in both patent services and the USPTO approval process, Menlo Park Patents is your partner in navigating the complexities of patents.

What is a Utility Patent?

Utility patents are the most common type of patent filed. They are granted for the invention of a new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof. This can include anything from a new type of machinery to a pharmaceutical compound. Utility patents protect the way an invention is used and works.

What is a Design Patent?

In contrast, design patents are granted for a new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture. This means the patent is awarded not for the function of the item, but for how it looks. The design must be inseparable from the item itself and can include the shape, configuration, or outer appearance.  Design patents are primarily used to protect how an invention “looks”.

The Key Differences Between Utility and Design Patents

Protection Scope: Utility patents protect the way an invention is used and how it functions, while design patents protect the ornamental design of an object or how it “looks”.

Patent Duration: Utility patents provide  20 years of protection, whereas design patents last for 15 years from the date of grant.

Application Process: The process for obtaining a utility patent is generally more complex, involving detailed descriptions of the invention's utility and how it's different from existing inventions. Design patents, on the other hand, primarily require visual representations of the design.

Why the Distinction Matters

For inventors and businesses, choosing the right type of patent is critical in maximizing protection and minimizing infringement risks. In some cases, it may be beneficial to file for both utility and design patents if an invention encompasses both functional and ornamental aspects.

Navigating the Patent Application Process

Understanding the nuances of the patent application process is key to securing effective protection for your invention while saving money. At Menlo Park Patents, our approach to patents involves an evaluation of your needs to determine the best route for you to grow your business.

Utility Patents: A Deeper Dive

Utility patents require a detailed description of the invention, claims, drawings, and an abstract. The process involves a thorough examination by the the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) which includes a prior art search performed by the examiner.

Design Patents: Focusing on Aesthetics

Design patents protect the ornamental design or outer appearance of an invention. The applications require drawings that clearly illustrate the design from several perspectives. The specification of a design patent is much simpler than that of a utility patent.

Strategic Considerations in Patent Selection

Selecting the right type of patent can have significant strategic implications for your business. Utility patents are essential for protecting functional innovations, which can be key drivers of a company’s technological edge. Design patents, meanwhile, protect the unique appearance of products, which can be vital in industries where aesthetic differentiation is a competitive factor.


The decision between a utility patent and a design patent is pivotal in protecting your invention effectively. By understanding the differences and strategic implications of each, you can make informed decisions that align with your innovation and business objectives.

Explore Our Services:

At Menlo Park Patents, we offer comprehensive guidance in both utility and design patent applications. Discover how our tailored patent services can help you secure and capitalize on your intellectual property.