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Celebrating Creativity and Innovation: USPTO Issues Milestone 1 Millionth Design Patent

September 28, 2023 | Intellectual Property,Patents

In a historic moment for American innovation, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has officially granted its one millionth design patent. Design patent 1 million arrives 181 years after printer George Bruce received the first design patent in 1842 for a groundbreaking new typeface. Since then, design patents have shielded the distinctive appearances of iconic products like Harley Davidson motorcycles and Eames chairs, as well as beloved characters such as Star Wars’ R2D2 and Yoda.

The one millionth design patent was awarded to Agustina Huckaby, a licensed cosmetologist hailing from Fort Worth, Texas. Huckaby, who already holds a patent for a different comb design, also owns federally registered trademark, Pomp and Powder. Her latest patent encompasses the design of a dispensing comb. The comb’s handle features a trigger which, when pulled, dispenses liquid between the comb tines.

Protecting Aesthetic Vision: The Essence of Design Patents
Design patents are instrumental in safeguarding the visual aesthetics of an article of manufacture. Unlike utility patents, which focus on functionality, design patents are dedicated to preserving the unique appearance of a product. For many small businesses, this protection is a critical step towards establishing their brand identity and gaining a competitive edge in the market.

Patents in General
A patent is a limited government-granted monopoly over whatever the patent covers. As anyone who’s familiar with the board game knows, a monopoly means money.

Why Obtain a Design Patent?
Let’s say you have a famous shoe company. Let’s call it Nickey. You’ve spent a lot of time developing a new shoe design, let’s call it Air Gordon. You’ve spent thousands of dollars to pay the designers to create the design, and millions of dollars in marketing the shoe. People love it. But then, you start seeing knock-offs. Shoes that look identical or nearly identical to your unique design. The shoes might not have your trademarked “swish” logo, but everything else looks the same. All those money you’ve spend in marketing, running your business, and building brand identity are going to waste. How do you stop them from selling these knock-offs?

Will a normal Utility Patent protect your design? No. Even though you have a new shoe design, it’s still a shoe, which isn’t a new invention. Will a copyright protect the design? Copyrights usually protect things like books, paintings, and sculptures, things where the entire purpose is artistic expressions. Functional products like shoes may not be eligible for copyright protection. Will a trademark protect the design? Trademarks usually cover logos and names, not shoe designs.

However, a design patent will protect your unique design. Anyone who sells a shoe with a “substantially similar” design would be infringing your design patent and the courts can order them to stop and/or pay legal damages to you.

Just a note with utility patents, if the design was improvement to the function of a shoe, like a new sole material which increased jump height, that could be patented through a utility patent. Design patents are not for functional improvements.

Utility or Design Patent: What Should I Get?
A utility patent is generally preferable to a design patent. The protection is broader and the length of protection is longer. However, obtaining a utility patent can be more complicated, take more time, and cost more money.

So, if you’ve come up with something new, but it doesn’t reach the high standards for a utility patent, consider a design patent instead.

Applying this to the millionth patent, Ms. Huckaby designed a new type of comb dispenser. The idea of having a liquid spray built in between the comb tines maybe wasn’t new, so she likely would not have been able to get a utility patent, but she was able to invent a dispensing comb with a superior design. And with her design patent, any other dispensing comb that looks “substantially similar” to hers can be prevented from being sold.

Let’s Innovate
At T-Rex Law, we want you to innovate. There are a million design patents, and over eleven million utility patents, but there’s plenty more to invent. We love innovators, inventors, and entrepreneurs who want to create things to make the world a better place. If you’ve got an idea, invention, or design, we’d love to hear about it, and get you whatever protection and help you need to get it out there.