Early Stage

Design vs. Utility Patent

By August 15, 2016 No Comments

What’s the Difference?


We get involved in many companies and are in constant discussions with others.  Perhaps we are looking to invest along with our partners or perhaps mentor the management to get them ready for raising capital.  Founders of these companies often talk about or are often asked about their IP.  Sometimes a company’s success is tied to their IP and/or the protection of their IP.

In our industry, IP stands for Intellectual Property and (according to the WIPO) is defined as “Intellectual property (IP) refers to creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; and symbols, names and images used in commerce.”  Patents legally protect the Intellectual Property.

What is a Patent?

US Patent & Trademark Office

A patent is a legal right of protection to an inventor for a set period of time.  This protection can only be issued by the United State Patent and Trademark Office.  Once granted it is always for a set or certain period of time.  It protects the inventors in the United States.  It gives the inventor (or owner of the patent) the sole right to exclude others from making, using, distributing, importing, or selling an invention without the owner’s permission.

Cool Patent Examples

Here are four great examples of patents that you may or may not know about, but they went on to be famous or earn great fortunes for their inventors;

It used to be that bottles filled with liquids, like ketchup could not be turned upside down without spilling.  But then Paul Brown took 112 tries to figure out the valve technology to make this happen.  He filed and was granted a patent for this technology and made millions from it.

You may have heard of Spanx, well Sara Blakely spent $5K to get her patent filed.  She is now a billionaire!  Here is the original design as drawn by her mother.  She did this without an attorney.  Not suggested but just amusing to know it can be done.

In 1906 the Wright Brothers were granted patent 821393 for a flying machine, or airplane.  It’s amazing to think that for some time they owned the right to airplanes.

Apple’s design patent for the iPhone is well known and extremely valuable.  Remember that this patent is about design not functionality.  Functionality would be a utility patent and Apple has hundreds upon hundreds of them.

For a great and informative video that delves deeper into the difference between a utility and design patent watch this:

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