Updated November 9, 2020:

Jewelry patents were common in the past when jewelry designs couldn't be copyrighted. A design patent protects the way a manufactured product looks but not the way it works or how it's structured. Businesses can protect their intellectual property rights over an original design by applying for patent protection. This should be done before entering the market to prevent a competitor from copying and profiting from your design.

What Are Jewelry Patents?

Businesses protect their investments with patents. The patent process could take several months, so companies marked their patent-pending jewelry “PAT. PEND.,” “DESIGN PAT. PEND.,” or “DES. PAT. PEND.” after submitting a patent application to let people know that it was waiting for approval. Once the patent was approved, businesses could add their patent numbers to their jewelry.

Starting in 1955, businesses could copyright jewelry designs and simply add copyright symbols to their jewelry to protect it. The United States stopped offering jewelry patents because they weren't needed, but many vintage jewelry patents are still valid.

Jewelry Patent Searches

Today, a jewelry patent search helps provide information that is crucial to finding the value of a piece of vintage jewelry. You can use websites like www.jewelrypatents.com to search for jewelry patents with keywords, date ranges, or ranges of patent numbers. You can also browse by company or by category of jewelry. This site allows you to view patent documents by clicking on the patent number on any image, but you can't download the file.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office, or USPTO, has a large database containing patents that date all the way back to 1790. If you know the patent number, it's an excellent way to find vintage or antique jewelry patents. Click on the "Search for Patents" link under the Patents menu near the top of the page to get started.

Patents from before 1976 are stored as PDF files. Design patents, including jewelry patents, should start with the letter D and have seven numbers. If the patent only has six numbers, add a zero at the beginning.

After you enter the number, you'll see the first page. Use the icons or the links underneath them to look at different pages. Most jewelry patents include:

  • One or more illustration pages
  • At least one page with signatures and specifications

USPTO allows you to download the file for future reference. Click the “Full Pages” button to make sure the entire document will be downloaded, and then click on the Save icon to download the patent.

Since patent documents are public domain, you can post them on your website or social media. Linking to jewelry patent documents on your sales site lets visitors know you're knowledgeable and the product is authentic. However, you can't copy the layout or design of another website that includes vintage jewelry patent documents. You have to make your own description and design based on the original documents.

Where to Search for Jewelry Patents?

There are many websites dedicated to researching costume jewelry that was produced and patented in the United States. These sites may help you learn more about the jewelry piece and identify several important details, such as:

  • The manufacturer
  • The seller
  • The name of the designer
  • The patent date
  • Other specifics

If you‘re researching vintage jewelry patents, a helpful website is Jewelry Patents. This site allows you to identify a piece using several methods, including by company name, jewelry type, and year created. The website is simple to use. First, select a company name. Next, you may choose between either the type of jewelry or the yearly range the piece was created.

An illustration or image of the piece will then appear with the vintage jewelry patent information. Click on the patent number to view the patent document in its entirety.

Launched in 2006, Google has a patent search engine called Google Patents. It offers the ability to search over a dozen patent offices and through millions of different patents. Additionally, Google has incorporated data from all around the world making it one of the most useful international online patent searches.

To use the search engine, simply enter the patent number and any correlating documentation for the patent will be displayed. There is also an option to download the PDF file associated with the patent.

Creativity is protected under copyright law in the U.S. Therefore, if you create a unique jewelry design, it may qualify for a patent. To patent jewelry, it needs to have some function that's novel and non-obvious to other professionals in your industry. While original art receives copyright automatically, manufacturers need to file a patent application and get it approved to have patent rights. Some examples of items that would qualify for a jewelry patent include:

  • An innovative clasp
  • A specialized cut for a gem that makes it sharp enough to cut through other items
  • A locket that can hold several small photographs or other items

The rights you get from a design patent are broader and more powerful than copyright because you don't have to prove an infringer intentionally copied your work. Even if the person or business has never seen your jewelry, you can take legal action if their merchandise is very similar or the same as your work. However, large companies with lots of money to obtain and enforce a design patent will have a greater advantage. This is why many smaller businesses and creators seek out intellectual property insurance.

Deadline for Design Patent Application and Filing Process

The filing and patent application process can take one year or more and can cost thousands of dollars.

Steps to File for Patent Application

When completing the design patent application, you will be required to describe your invention in detail and provide product information to a registered patent attorney. This will initiate the patent application filing process. Once the application is complete, the paperwork will be filed with the USPTO. Next, it will undergo an intense, multi-year examination to determine if the invention meets all three requirements of utility, novelty, and non-obviousness.

Once the work is created, copyright is automatic once the registration is completed. Typically, copyright takes three to six months and costs under $50.

By securing copyright, you have the rights to the design and can prevent copying from any competitors.

Unfortunately, in many countries, copyright will usually cease as soon as the design is placed in an industrial process to mass produce the item or article.

If a competitor produces a certain number of items or articles, then your copyright will cease. To protect your design when it is mass-produced you will need to file for an industrial design patent.

A copyright lasts for the duration of your life plus 70 years. A patent on a design is applicable for 14 years. Remember that there are many rules regarding design patents that may prohibit a designer to successfully qualify for a patent.

Are All Designs Protected Under Design Patent Law?

Not all designs can be protected under a design patent law. Certain circumstances restrict your ability to file for a design patent, such as:

  • Your design has been offered for sale
  • Images of your design have been published for over one year

Generally, a design patent protects the way an article looks. This may include the appearance of an article's shape, configuration, or the surface ornamentation applied to the item, or both.

Today, you can copyright jewelry if it's a work of authorship that's fixed in a tangible medium, which means it must be an actual piece of jewelry. Something is a work of authorship when it's a piece of art, rather than a functional tool, that is your own unique design. For example, a length of wire for an earring back isn't copyrightable, but a gold carving of a lion meant to hang on a necklace chain might be.

The rights you get from a design patent are broader and more powerful than copyright because you don't have to prove an infringer intentionally copied your work. Even if the person or business has never seen your jewelry, you can take legal action if their merchandise is very similar or the same as your work.

Patent Artwork

The actual application process is relatively straight-forward. Generally, there are two options in filing for a Design patent:

  • Provisional Applications: These are the “patent pending” designations occasionally seen on products. They are, essentially, “placeholders” that give the artwork precedence over potential competitors, but it has not been officially submitted to the USPTO for ultimate scrutiny. This allows patent applicants up to one year to assemble all support material and to determine if the product is truly distinct.
  • Non-Provisional Applications: This is the formal patent application that initiates the USPTO review. It means the applicant has provided all the necessary information to support the artwork, made the case, and now it is in its completed state and ready for consideration. Artwork cannot receive a Design patent without its non-provisional application being formally approved by the USPTO.

How You Can Keep Costs Down

There are steps that design patent applicants can take in reducing the costs of filing a patent even before they make an appointment with a USPTO-registered patent attorney. Among these is to do much of the preliminary investigatory work yourself.

For instance, anyone can conduct a patent search through Google, by subscribing to services as JSTOR to access academic papers, and by haunting the nearest Patent and Trademark Depository Library (PTDL) to access their files and query on-site search experts on how to find what you are looking for. Patent searches can be tedious because they require repeated keyword searches of databases that store all patents dating back to 1790. For the ultimate self-conducted patent search, visit the USPTO Search Center in Alexandria, Va.

For advice on how to keep patent costs down and assistance in patent searches, seek out other artists, inventors, authors, and small business owners to pool intellectual resources and share advice and experiences that all can benefit from. There is a wide range of social media groups committed to aiding and abetting the efforts of independent artwork designers in bringing their ideas to fruition.

If you need help with jewelry patents, 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.