Design patent infringement laws protect patent owners from imitations that are substantially similar to the original design and can stop the importation of goods that infringe on the patent owner’s design. An individual who obtains a design patent does so to protect the appearance of the product. To obtain the patent, the individual has to prove that the design of the patented invention is unique, and the individual has to overcome any objections raised by other patent owners. Once a patent is granted, the owner of the patent has the exclusive right to reproduce the design or license it to others. Any business or individual who imitates the design may be guilty of design patent infringement, whether or not they use it in commerce.
A design patent is awarded when the inventor can show that his product includes a new ornamental design. As the name suggests, the design pattern pertains to the appearance and visual characteristics of the design applied to the invention and not to the function or structure of the invention itself. For example, some manufacturers have applied for and obtained a design patent for their eyeglasses, even though they do not have a regular patent for eyeglasses. Design patent infringement is often not possible if the design is not affixed to a product or tangible good. For example, a drawing or picture of the design may lead to other forms of intellectual property infringement, but not a design patent infringement.
There are several ways that individuals can infringe on a design patent, which may or may not involve commercial transactions. To begin with, making a copy of a design is a form of infringement as long as the design is attached to a good or article of manufacture. Another way that individuals are accused of infringement is when they use the design for non-commercial purposes, such as in a presentation or in a video on their website. Design patent infringement often occurs when someone copies the design patent and sells it. If a business or individual attempts to import the item into the United States, that businesses or individual can be guilty of infringement even prior to selling it.
Design patents do not often last indefinitely. Once the period of patent protection expires, individuals who copy the design cannot be guilty of design patent infringement. For example, in the United States, a design patent lasts for 14 years from the time it’s granted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office.