A design patent search involves searching existing patents to make sure your design has not already been patented. A design patent is available for original, new, and ornamental designs for an item. It lasts for 14 years from the filing date. It also allows an inventor to create a new way to design an existing product. The design patent protects this unique design without changing the patent on the item.

There are a few common areas that design patents exist, although you can find them across just about every industry. The most common are furniture, hardware, tools, food preparation, sporting goods, toys, games, and communication equipment.

A design patent is often confusing because inventors aren't sure if they need this or a utility patent. The main difference is that a utility patent covers the entire product, while a design patent only protects the design. One example is a tissue with a new embossed design. The tissue probably isn't patentable because it's been around for decades, but a designer might create a unique embossed design in the tissue and qualify for a design patent.

Before you apply for a design patent, it's crucial to perform an extensive design patent search. Applying for any type of patent is time-consuming and expensive. Before you start the process, make sure the patent doesn't already exist.

If you're considering applying for both a design patent and a utility patent on the same invention, you'll need to conduct thorough searches in both databases.

Why Is Design Patent Search Important?

A design patent search is important because it will prevent you from copying a patent that already exists. There are many websites you can use to search for existing design patents. Be careful when performing your own search, though. Some of the websites have restrictions and won't find all existing design patents.

You can perform a search at the nearest United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) library. If you're not within close range to a physical library, you can also use Google Patent Search and the USPTO website. Paid design patent search service options, such as Simple Patents and Quick Patents, may produce more results. The cost to use one of these search tools is between $175 and $300, based on complexity and services.

It is difficult to search by keyword when performing a design patent search. An application's most descriptive portions are the drawings. Therefore, you'll need to conduct a more thorough search of the images.

Many inventors find that design patents already exist for their ideas while doing a search. This helps save time and money in the design patent process.

Every inventor should conduct a design patent search before filing a design patent application. Before you start, it's important to understand that the database has hundreds of thousands of patents. It is often overwhelming for inventors trying to find existing patents. This is because the USPTO database contains all public patents. Furthermore, the site may be slow to load and hard to navigate. The Google Patent Search option is faster but may not include every existing patent.

You may also have trouble locating design patents similar to your idea. For many people, not finding an exact match tells them they're free to pursue a design patent, which isn't always the case. An experienced legal professional has access to more resources.

If you're serious about pursuing a design patent, it's best to consult with a patent lawyer. He or she can review your design and compare it to granted patents over the past 14 years. After the review, you will know if you have a good case for a design patent.


If you have displayed your design in a public setting, the application must be filed within 12 months. This could include a display at a show or a drawing of the design published in any type of publication. If you have never shown the design publicly, there is no timeline. However, you risk your design idea being stolen while it's not protected.

Without conducting a thorough design patent search, you may submit an application for something that's patented. Even if you've never seen a design on a certain product before, don't think it doesn't exist.

The process of applying for a design patent includes an application fee. You don't want to spend the money on this fee for something that isn't patentable. It can also take several years to receive approval on a patent application.

Common Mistakes

  • Not performing an extensive design patent search. A patent attorney will know the most about existing patents and how to find them, but you can start by searching on your own. Use different keywords and their variations to look for similar designs.
  • Using only one database for your search. Some of the free online resources only provide basic search functions. You might think that nothing like your design exists because the search produces no results. Using a more advanced search tool might find more patents or pending applications that directly compete with your idea.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is a design patent?

A design patent protects the original design of an existing product or item. It gives legal protection to the patent holder against anyone who tries to steal or copy the design. If you have a design patent and another company or individual copies your design, you can take legal action against them.

  • How long will a design patent last?

A design patent lasts for 14 years from the date you filed the application for the patent. Since the review process can take several years, you might not have the full 14 years of protection. Anyone who copies your design during that time is at risk for legal action.

  • What does a design patent protect?

A design patent covers the look and feel of a specific object. It does not protect the functional or operational aspects of that item.

  • What is the difference between a design patent and a utility patent?

A utility patent is broader and includes how a product works as well as how it looks. It applies to just about any item, including chemical compounds, furniture, electronics, and many other products. A design patent only protects how the item looks. It's usually granted on items, such as furniture pieces or electronic devices, that are patented or have expired patents.

  • Do the drawings provided in a utility patent count as prior art against drawings or images in a design patent application?

No, utility patent drawings do not factor in as prior art under the design patent laws. However, if someone else submitted similar images in a design patent application, this could affect your ability to qualify for a design patent.

Similar drawings and images in any publication, such as a magazine or newspaper, would also count against your patent application. This restriction is also known as the public knowledge doctrine.

Before you consider filling out a design patent application, conduct a thorough design patent search. The process might seem tedious, but it could save you a lot of time, money, and frustration.

If you have any questions about performing a design patent search, post your legal need to get free custom quotes from one of the lawyers on UpCounsel's marketplace. With an average legal experience of 14 years, as well as working with or on behalf of companies such as Google and Airbnb, you can be sure you'll receive practical and applicable assistance.