The world of patents can confuse those unfamiliar with the concept, as multiple patents can be obtained. Two of the most common types of patents are utility and design. It is imperative to understand the differences between these two types of patents, as they each provide different types of protection for inventors.

A utility patent is used to protect the functional aspects of a product. This patent is granted to inventors who create a new and useful process, the machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter. A utility patent also protects a new use of an existing product. To obtain a utility patent, an invention must be novel, useful, and non-obvious.

Conversely, a design patent is used to protect the ornamental aspects of a product. A design patent is granted to inventors who create a new, original, and ornamental design for a product. This type of patent does not protect the functional aspects of an invention as a utility patent does. Instead, a design patent is used to protect the unique design of a product.

Here is a list of the key distinctions between design and utility patents and where to find a patent law office. 

Design Patent vs. Utility Patent

A design patent safeguards a product’s unique visual appearance, including its configuration or shape (e.g., round, cylindrical, etc.) and any surface embellishment (e.g., the pattern of indents, ridges, etc.). 

A design patent only protects the external aesthetics of an object. A design patent application cannot be made for an article’s hidden or interior design because they are not visible and cannot be aesthetic. The same is true for functional mechanical designs, which design patents cannot protect because they are not by nature beautiful.

On the other hand, a utility patent protects an item’s intended use or method of functioning. A utility patent protects an invention that meets at least one of the following requirements: 

Process: Claims about how to perform a specific action or a group of related actions are referred to as processes. Method claims in utility patents can include a wide range of topics, such as ways to treat illnesses, how to use an algorithm to protect software functionality, how to use devices, etc.

Machine: Machine claims are made about specific devices or groupings of devices that are used in systems. A claim about a manufactured object, such as pottery, furniture, shoes, etc., is covered by the term “article of manufacture.”

Composition of Matter: This pertains to biological or chemical compositions (such as the chemical makeup of a small molecule or a medicinal composition made up of various ingredients) (e.g., nucleic acid sequences, amino acid sequences, antibodies, etc.)

Important Distinctions Between Design and Utility Patents

A utility patent protects an item’s functioning components, while a design patent protects an item’s aesthetic appeal. A utility patent costs more than a design patent since it is more challenging and takes longer (often 3-5 years) to obtain (about 1-2 years).

Before submitting a utility patent application, it is strongly advised to perform a patentability search to look for previously issued patents, pending patent applications, or other publications related to the invention to be patented to evaluate novelty and non-obviousness. This is because acquiring a utility patent can be costly and challenging.

The utility patent has a 20-year lifespan from the time the utility patent application is submitted. A design patent in the US is granted for fifteen years following the application date. Unlike utility patents, which must be regularly maintained to prevent expiration, design patents are immune from maintenance payments once issued. 

When to Submit a Utility Patent Rather than a Design Patent?

A design patent application should be submitted when the contested item has a distinctive exterior and competitors are likely to copy it. Protecting the aesthetic features of consumer goods, such as footwear, automobiles, and mobile phones sometimes involves applying for design patents.

However, submitting a utility patent application is allowed if you want protection for how something works, such as its mechanical structure, whether on the inside or outside of the object, or for how it’s used. You should submit a design and utility patent application to safeguard the item’s functional aspects and visual appeal.


Utility patents and Design patents are both important tools for protecting intellectual property. Utility patents protect an invention’s functionality or how something works. 

Design patents protect the ornamental features of a product. Both provide a legal way for inventors and companies to guard their inventions against unauthorized use. 

Utility patents are more commonly used, as they provide the broadest protection for the longest period. Design patents are best used to protect products with ornamental features or shapes, such as jewelry and furniture. 

Depending on the type of invention, either type of patent may be necessary. It is vital to consult a patent attorney or agent to determine which type of patent is best suited for your invention.

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