Designs and patents – what’s the difference?
Patents protect the way something works, regardless of how it looks. Think coffee machines, GPS, and agricultural machinery.
On the other hand, design registrations protect how something looks, regardless of how it works. The appearance of a product includes shape, pattern, ornamentation and configuration. In short – patents protect function, design registrations protect appearance.
Of course, if a product’s function is tied to its appearance, then a design registration becomes even more powerful because it implicitly protects the products function. This only arises in special cases so you should talk to your patent attorney to see what form of protection is best for your product.
What can be protected with a registered design?
Nearly any manufactured product with a distinctive appearance can be protected with a design registration. From lunch boxes and desks to mining equipment and consumer electronics.
At the time of writing, Apple has over 800 design filings in Australia alone. Design registrations are just part of Apple’s overall IP strategy which allows their phones and computers to remain so visually distinctive.
Can I show my design to others before filing a design application?
When it comes to intellectual property, particularly with regard to patents and designs, secrecy is vital.
Publicly sharing your design with others, even if by accident, can thwart your ability to protect your design. If in doubt, keep it a secret and ask your patent attorney how to best protect your product and when you can start disclosing it to others.
Even if you have eager investors and customers knocking at your door, make sure you file for the appropriate patent and/or design protection before going public. They won’t be knocking so hard if you aren’t the only one who can supply the product.