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The benefits of design patents for eCommerce sellers

June 26, 2024
The benefits of design patents for eCommerce sellers

As an eCommerce seller, it’s essential to protect your unique product designs and innovations. Imitation, loss of competitive advantage, damage to brand reputation, legal challenges, and limited growth opportunities are only some of the dangers of failing to legally secure your products.

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We have partnered with Cabilly & Co., a leading law firm with expertise in eCommerce law and intellectual property, to discuss why online retailers should consider filing a design patent over a utility patent. But first, let’s understand what design and utility patents are.

What is a design patent?

A design patent protects the ornamental design of a functional item, focusing on its visual aspects, appearance, and aesthetics. It ensures that no one can produce, use, or sell a design that’s substantially similar to your patented design. This type of patent is especially valuable in industries where product appearance is key to standing out from competition and appealing to consumers.

What is a utility patent?

A utility patent protects new, useful, and non-obvious inventions, covering how they work, how they are used, and how they are made. It’s the most common type of patent, applicable to a wide range of inventions like machines, processes, and compositions of matter. Utility patents grant exclusive rights to make, use, sell, and import the invention for up to 20 years from the application date.

Advantages of design patents vs. utility patents 

While utility patents offer the most robust protection for a new invention, design patents offer several advantages in specific situations. Here’s are the differences between the two:

Appearance and aesthetics

Design patents protect the visual appearance of a product, which is a crucial aspect for many eCommerce sellers. With a design patent, you can protect your product’s unique design, ensuring that competitors do not copy your product’s aesthetic appeal, thereby preserving your brand identity and market share.

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Patent process

The application process for design patents is generally faster than utility patents. While it can take up to three to five years on average to secure a utility patent, design patents can often be granted in a few years or even less, if expedited. This relatively short timeline allows sellers to protect their products more quickly and focus on growing their businesses. In addition, design patents have a much higher approval rate than utility patents, according to USPTO statistics. US design patents have an 85% approval rate, while the utility patent approval rate between 2006 and 2018 was just 51.3%.


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Lower application costs

Design patent applications are typically less expensive than utility patent applications. The filing fees and attorney costs are usually much lower because design patents require fewer technical details and specifications. This cost-saving factor can be particularly beneficial for Amazon sellers with limited budgets or an extensive product portfolio.

Design patent example

Easier enforcement and litigation

Design patents are often considered easier to enforce than utility patents, as infringement can be identified more readily by comparing the patented design with the accused product. For Amazon sellers, this means that protecting your intellectual property rights and preventing unauthorized copies becomes a more straightforward (and less costly) process. You can use Amazon’s brand registry system to remove other sellers, who are using your unique designs, in days – and sometimes in just a few hours.

Complementary protection

Design patent protection is often an excellent choice for eCommerce sellers. That being said, there are situations where filing a utility patent application alongside a design patent can provide additional benefits. For instance, if your product has multiple novel features in both design and function, obtaining both types of patents is advisable.

This approach broadens the scope of protection beyond just the design and its similar variations, better serving your enforcement needs. Filing both design and utility patents can secure comprehensive protection, making it more difficult for competitors to replicate your product. By leveraging both patent types, eCommerce sellers can maximize their intellectual property assets and ensure a robust defense against copycats.

Conclusion

Design patents offer numerous advantages for eCommerce sellers looking to protect their product designs and secure a competitive edge in the marketplace. By understanding the differences between design and utility patents and strategically filing for the appropriate protection, sellers can safeguard their innovations and grow their businesses confidently.

The field of patents can seem complex, especially when determining where to start. If you need help or have any questions, do not hesitate to contact our partners from the legal team at Cabilly & Co.


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