How Long Does a Design Patent Last

A design patent lasts 15 years from the grant date in the United States. These patents are critical elements of intellectual property, providing inventors with the exclusive right to benefit from their unique designs.

What is a Design Patent

A design patent is a legal protection granted to the ornamental design of a functional item. This differs from a utility patent, which protects how an item is used. The design patent focuses on aesthetics—it’s all about how your product looks.

Design patents also differ from a trademark, which protects brand elements like logos and names. If you’ve created a product with a unique design that sets it apart, a design patent may be what you need.

Design Patent Duration

The 15-year period of a design patent starts from the date the patent is officially granted and lasts until the end of the term, given the patented design remains unique and legally sound.

What Factors Influence the Lifespan of a Design Patent

The following factors affect the lifespan of a design patent:

The Role of Originality

The lifespan of a design patent is not affected by external factors once granted. As long as the design is original, doesn’t infringe on any existing patent, and no false statements were made during the application process, the design patent lasts 15 years.

Infringement on Existing Patents

The design must not infringe on any existing patents. If it does, this could lead to the design patent being invalidated, reducing its lifespan.

How to Plan for the Expiry of a Design Patent

Here are some of the ways you can prepare for the expiry of your design patent:

Understanding the Patent Timeline

Knowing precisely when your design patent expires is crucial. You should ingrain this knowledge into your business plans, product lifecycle management, and marketing strategies. 

Planning product releases, updates, or even phased-outs hinge on this timeline. Uncovering your patent’s expiry date could lead to unwanted surprises, leaving you unprotected and potentially vulnerable to competition.

Exploring Follow-On Innovations and Improvements

One effective way to navigate the expiration of a design patent is to create and patent follow-on innovations or improvements to your original design. 

It is a common strategy many businesses use to continually renew protection and extend the lifespan of their unique designs in the market. Such iterative innovations give your product a competitive edge and allow you to stay legally protected for extended periods.

Considering Other Forms of Intellectual Property Protection

While design patents are immensely valuable, they are not the only forms of intellectual property protection available. As the expiration date of your design patent approaches, consider if elements of your product could qualify for other protections, such as trademarks or copyrights. 

Trademarks, for instance, can protect logos, names, and other brand identifiers, while copyrights can protect original artistic or literary works. Both can provide additional layers of protection and last much longer than design patents.

Preparing for Increased Competition

Once your patent expires, your patent will enter the public domain. This transition might lead to increased competition as others can legally replicate your design. 

To remain competitive, consider focusing on brand building, product quality, and exceptional customer service. Creating a solid brand identity and reputation allows you to stand out in the market even when your design is no longer protected.

Using Licensing Agreements

Towards the end of your design patent’s life, another approach to consider is the strategic use of licensing agreements. You can generate additional revenue by granting licenses to other businesses to use your patented design. 

Besides, licensing can allow you to maintain some control over how your design is used in the market. However, the specifics of licensing agreements can be complex and require legal assistance to navigate effectively.

Can the Lifespan of a Design Patent be Extended

It’s crucialto maximize the value of your patent during the 15-year period, whether through manufacturing and selling your product or through licensing the design to others.

How to Protect a Design After Patent Expiration

The following methods will help protect your design when the patent expires.

Transitioning to Trademark Protection

When your design patent expires after 15 years, one option is to transition to trademark protection. If your design elements have become distinctive identifiers of your product or brand, they may be eligible for trademark registration.

Utilizing Trade Dress Protection

Trade dress protection safeguards the visual appearance of a product or its packaging that signifies the source of the product to consumers. If your design qualifies, it can be a valuable tool for preventing competitors from copying the “look and feel” of your product.

Relying on Brand Strength and Product Quality

While formal legal protections are invaluable, they aren’t the only forms of protection. The strength of your brand reputation and the quality of your products can continue to provide a competitive edge. 

A well-established brand and high-quality products can deter competitors and maintain customer loyalty, even without the shield of a design patent.

Why is Legal Counsel Important in Design Patents

Engaging legal counsel can ensure you get the best out of your unique design before it expires. Here is why you need to seek legal professionals:

Streamlining the Patent Application Process

Navigating the patent application process can be a daunting task due to its technical nature and the necessity of precise language. Legal counsel can significantly streamline this process. They’re equipped with the necessary knowledge to draft a robust patent application, boosting the likelihood of approval.

Enhancing the Protection of Your Design

Legal counsel is crucial in ensuring your design is adequately protected. They can guide how to fully portray the uniqueness of your design in the patent application, thereby strengthening its protection against infringement.

Preventing Future Legal Disputes

Having legal counsel can prevent potential legal disputes related to your design patent. They can anticipate issues that might lead to disputes and advise accordingly, thereby preventing costly legal battles in the future.

Maximizing Commercial Benefit

Legal counsel can provide strategic advice on maximizing the commercial benefits of your design patent. They can guide you on leveraging your patent rights for business advantage, potentially leading to increased revenues.

Navigating Complex Legal Nuances

Legal counsel, such as those available through platforms like LegalZoom, can help navigate the complex legal nuances of design patents. They’re well-versed in the laws and regulations surrounding patents and can ensure that you stay within legal boundaries while exploiting your design patent to its fullest potential.

Why are Design Patents Important

Design patents play a pivotal role in the creative and business landscape. Here are reasons you should consider design patents.

Fostering Innovation

Design patents play an instrumental role in fostering innovation by assuring designers that their unique creations will be safeguarded. This security encourages creativity and pushes designers to explore new ideas without fearing their work being replicated.

Protecting Creative Expression

Beyond encouraging innovation, design patents are also critical for protecting creative expression. A design patent secures a designer’s rights over their creation, ensuring their ability to control its use. This legal protection preserves the integrity of the designer’s original vision and deters unauthorized usage.

Providing Business Advantages

Design patents can provide a significant competitive edge for businesses. A patented unique design can serve as a unique selling point, helping a company stand out in a crowded marketplace. This can increase product appeal to consumers and boost sales.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are the most commonly asked questions about design patents, applications, longevity, and expiration:

1. What’s the difference between utility patents, design patents, and plant patents?

Utility patents, design patents, and plant patents each provide different types of patent protection. A utility patent protects the way an invention works, a design patent protects the unique visual appearance of a product, and a plant patent protects a new and distinct variety of plants.

2. How long does a design patent last compared to a utility patent or plant patent?

A design patent lasts 15 years from the date of grant and doesn’t require maintenance fees. A utility patent typically lasts 20 years from the filing date, with maintenance fees due periodically. Plant patents also have a patent term of 20 years from the filing date.

3. What is covered by a design patent, and what can a design patent protect?

A design patent protects the ornamental design of a functional item. This includes the visual characteristics embodied in or applied to a product. However, unlike a utility patent, a design patent does not protect the structural or functional features of the invention.

4. What costs are involved in a design patent application, and are there any maintenance fees?

Filing a design patent application incurs costs, including filing, prior art search, and examination fees. The design patent cost can vary depending on the complexity of the design and legal fees if a patent attorney is involved. Unlike utility patents, design patents do not require maintenance fees.

5. What happens when a design patent expires, and what options does a patent owner have?

Once a design patent expires 15 years from the date it was granted, the design enters the public domain, and the patent owner can no longer assert the patent. 

However, the patent holder might consider other forms of protection, such as trademark or trade dress, especially if the design has become distinctive of the product or brand.


Josh Fechter
Josh is the founder of The Product Company.