A US design patent covers the ornamental design for an object. Generally speaking, a design patent is governed by the same rules as a utility patent. One of the biggest differences is that the term of a design patent is 14 years whereas the term of a utility patent is 20 years. Another difference is that a design patent is much simpler and easier to draft and therefore is less costly than a utility patent.
Design patent infringement occurs when an object with a design that is substantially similar to the design claimed in a design patent is made, used, copied or imported into the United States. The copy does not have to be exact for the patent to be infringed. It only has to be substantially similar. Design patents having line drawings cover only the elements illustrated as solid lines. Elements shown as dotted lines are not covered. While design patents may not be considered to have as broad of protection as a utility patent, recent cases have proven that a design patent is useful to protect a business designs. For instance, Apple was awarded a jury verdict of $1.049 billion dollars in the US case of Apple v. Samsung. In that case the design patent played an integral part in the case.
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