4 Shocking Ways To Use Design Patents To Protect Your Sci-Tech Startup 😲

Precipice IP PLLC 4 Ways To Use Design Patents To Protect Your Sci-Tech Startup.png

The focus of competitive advantage in many science and technology startups is, not surprisingly, on the science and technology. Many sci-tech startups choose to protect the innovative function over the innovative form, and I think that’s a huge miss.

Design patent protection can be effective and affordable, since the attorney’s fees are usually much lower than utility patent filings, and once issued, no maintenance fees are required to maintain the patent. There are numerous innovative areas of focus for which a design patent strategy could work, and below we touch on just a few and use Google’s patent portfolio to illustrate our point.


#1- The Desktop Graphical User Interface

The first shocking example of using design patents is protecting the layout of the desktop webpage. When you look at Google’s design for the Google Search user interface, you might be shocked at how simple the innovation actually is. But that’s kind of the point. The layout was novel and non-obvious at the time, and thus qualified for design patent protection. For a sci-tech startup willing to invest in a little creativity with their user interface (i.e. webpage), a design patent can be a useful tool in building even the tiniest of competitive advantage in the market. Keep in mind design patents are not to be functionally unique, but rather novel in form rather than function.

U.S. Design Patent No.  USD607465

U.S. Design Patent No. USD607465

U.S. Design Patent No.  USD820855

U.S. Design Patent No. USD820855

#2- The Mobile Graphical User Interface

The second most shocking use of the design patent is in the mobile user interface (you probably guessed). Looking at the visual design of the Google Maps interface shows essentially the innovation of using icons and lines to navigate between two points. Not rocket science but good enough for a design patent. I’ll also add the science behind the navigation is probably highly complex and leverages a unique systems architecture and positioning technology, but the form the innovation takes is simple but effective.

U.S. Design Patent No.  USD730754

U.S. Design Patent No. USD730754

#3- The Form of Physical Products

The third most shocking use of a design patent is in the use of protecting the design of a physical product. As we discussed above, design patents can apply to digital products, but you’ve seen innumerable examples of unique designs for physical products as well. The example I have is Google’s Nest. The technology that drives Nest is a complicated architecture of sensors and communication networks, but all that complication is nicely hidden away by this simple, yet effective design. Design patents protect novel and non-obvious forms of “articles of manufacture,” which is just about anything made that can take physical form.

U.S. Design Patent No.  USD746671

U.S. Design Patent No. USD746671

#4- Form of Product Packaging

The fourth most shocking example of the use of design patents is the use of design patents to protect product packaging. Once again, let’s continue the Google theme and take a look at some of their product packaging. Here we have an example of the packing used for a tablet. The packaging innovation is simple, effective, novel and non-obvious. While the packaging serves a need, the innovation is in the design of the packaging. Chances are if you’re making a product with unique dimensions, you’ll likely need to design packaging which will protect the product in the shipping process. Why not design packaging with some novel design aesthetic to further distinguish your product in the marketplace and in the minds of the consumer?

So, What’s The Point?

via Giphy

The point is to layer up. Build an IP portfolio to match your product and services portfolio. The fact that design patents do not require the technical rigor of utility patents is a bonus, but make no mistake, design patents can be equally, if not more effective. Utilizing design patents in your startup’s IP portfolio can help you create competitive barriers that will be hard for your rivals to overcome.


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Angela Grayson, CIPP/US, CLP  is an author, speaker, and lawyer. She is the Principal and Founder of Precipice IP, PLLC.  Angela is a patent, trademark, copyright, and technology law attorney with almost 20 years of experience helping science and technology companies protect products, brands, designs, and data from idea to launch.

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