You’ve got an innovation that will change the world for the better. But, first, you need to protect your idea before a competitor is able to monetize it before you. You need to know about hardware patents.

This is when savvy inventors need patents to protect their most valuable creations. But a patent isn’t a catchall document. There are actually three types of patents, and if you want to protect your hardware innovation, you need to know which of two types of patents applies to your business — a utility patent or a design patent.

What is a Utility Patent?

A utility patent is a patent covering the creation of a new or improved (and useful) product, process, or machine. Most of the time, when people think of patents, they think of utility patents. Also known as a patent for invention, utility patents have a long list of formal requirements and are some of the most difficult, expensive patents to get.

But they’re also your business’ most valuable asset.

A utility patent is prized by founders because it gives their company the exclusive commercial rights to produce and sell a product. This is also why utility patents are so expensive and difficult to attain. For one thing, they are extremely complex legal documents that are hard to write and, as a consequence, time-consuming and expensive. A utility patent for a simple invention can cost a few thousand dollars, while a utility patent for a complex piece of technology can cost tens of thousands to write.

They are also difficult to attain because the product, process, or machine covered by the patent must be unique, non-obvious, and useful. For instance, before preparing a utility patent application, you might consider performing a basic patent search to see whether an issued patent or publications for a similar product already exists. If one already exists, you’ll have a hard time getting a utility patent issued. If it doesn’t, you’ll need an expert to help you write the patent application.

What is a Design Patent?

Where a utility patent protects the functionality of a product or process, a design patent is slightly different. Rather than protecting the functionality, a design patent protects the unique visual qualities of a manufactured item. The USPTO defines a design as, “A design consists of the visual ornamental characteristics embodied in, or applied to, an article of manufacture,” essentially the look and feel of a product, rather than the product itself. 

Since a design is manifested in appearance, the subject matter of a design patent application may relate to the configuration or shape of an article, to the surface ornamentation applied to an article, or to the combination of configuration and surface ornamentation.”

In other words, you’re protecting how the product looks, not how it’s made or how it works.

This is incredibly important from a branding perspective. The way a product looks is how your customers identify it as your brand in the store. If another company copies the design, you may lose sales and confuse customers.

Which Patent is Right for Your Innovation?

So, how do you know which patent is the right fit? It’s a relatively simple assessment.

Are you looking to protect the functionality or the appearance of a product? If the former, you’ll need a utility patent. If the latter, you’ll need a design patent. Keep in mind, however, that design patents often follow on the heels of utility patents to be a powerful complementary tool to protect your product.  For example, Apple successfully wielded their design patents against Samsung in court to extensive business advantage.

Patents aren’t one-size-fits-all, and intellectual property isn’t either. And while the life of an entrepreneur isn’t easy, IP shouldn’t be one more item on your list to worry about. At Patents Integrated, we help guide entrepreneurs through every stage of the innovation process. That way, you can focus on what matters most: making your big idea a reality.

Ready to position your company for long-term growth and success? Contact us today to start the conversation.