In the United States, a design patent is a patent granted on the unique appearance or concept of an item. Designs patents are a type of industrial design right. Design patents typically apply to jewelry, furniture, and other items with substantial decorative features.
Design patents provide a broader protection than copyright, as similar (non-identical) designs are considered to infringe upon a patented design. Unlike a utility patent, the protected features do not have to be a functional part of the item. For example, assume that the idea of a cigarette lighter shaped like a handgun were something new to the world. The creative designer who came up with this concept could rely on copyright to protect the design, which would restrain competitors from making handgun-shaped lighters that are very similar in appearance; however, a very differently-shaped handgun lighter could still be made without infringing on the designer's work. A design patent would restrain competitors from making any handgun-shaped lighters at all.
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