Updated November 5, 2020:

Discerning how to protect a product design depends on the type of product you have created. In general, applying for a utility patent is the best solution for protecting your product, but you may also be able to secure a copyright or a trademark in some circumstances.

Protecting a Product

If you invent a product that starts making money, there will naturally be people that will want to try to profit from your idea by copying your design. Therefore, after creating a product, protecting your design is of the utmost importance. Your design is what makes your product unique, and if you don't secure your design, it can result in severe consequences.

By protecting your design, you'll be ensuring that you will be the only person that will be able to profit from your product. Fortunately, there are several different methods you can use to protect a product design.

One potential method of securing a product design is to apply for a copyright, which is a type of intellectual property protection. The purpose of a copyright is to protect an artist's work, and you can apply for a copyright even if you never intend to publicly reveal your creation. Copyrights can protect virtually any type of artistic creation:

  • Books
  • Movies
  • Designs
  • Photographs

With a copyright, you can stop others from copying your work, whether it's a painting or a musical performance. It's important to remember that copyrights only protect the expression of a work, not the idea that inspired the work, which means copyrights only provide limited protections.

Most forms of intellectual property are automatically copyrighted, but you shouldn't assume that this fact means that your design will have protection. Even with a copyright in place, there are still ways that others can steal your idea. Also, if you don't formally apply for a copyright for your design, it will be nearly impossible to file a lawsuit after someone copies your idea.

Even though you will have some default protections, your work may not be fully secured, especially in regard to its design. For instance, if some part of your design isn't intrinsic to the final purpose of your product, this aspect of your design will not have protection under copyright.

Filing for a Design Patent

If you want to protect the design of a product, in addition to the product itself, the best idea is applying for a design patent. To be eligible for a design patent, your design should be:

  • New
  • Original
  • Ornamental

A patent is one of the strongest forms of intellectual property protections, and it can secure several forms of intellectual property, including how a product works, a manufacturing method, or concepts. The benefit of a patent when it comes to protecting a product is that the patent defends the underlying nature of the product, not just how it looks.

Before you will be granted a patent, you will need to fulfill several requirements. For example, your invention will be thoroughly examined by a patent inspector to make sure that it is patentable, and a patent search will also be performed to make sure your product does not conflict with a previously registered invention. You should also be aware that some types of inventions can't be patented.

If you've come up with a creative product design, you should absolutely apply for a design patent. Design patents can protect the design of a wide range of products, from cars to computers. Once your design patent application receives approval, you will have rights to your design for 14 years and will be able to stop other people from copying your design.

Trademark Protections

If you've branded your product with a symbol, word, or design, then you might also want to apply for a trademark. A trademark is used to identify a product's creator, and it can be an important part of marketing your product. In addition to standard trademarks, there is a type of trademark that is specifically used for the design of a product known as trade dress.

The purpose of trade dress is to indicate that you are the owner of a design and that your design cannot be copied by others without your permission. Like design patents, trade dress relates to the appearance of your product and not how it functions.

If you need help with how to protect a product design, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.