1. What is a Design Patent?
A design patent may protect a two- or three-dimensional design of a product or a part of a product. A design patent shall protect the outer appearance of the product, but not its technical function (for the latter patent or utility model protection can be sought). Typical examples for design patents are the design of furniture, clothes, household appliances or lamps.
2. Requirements for Protection
The subject-matter of a German design patent must be new, i.e. prior to the filing date of the design patent the design must not have been known to the circles to which the design pertains. In addition, the subject-matter of the design patent must comprise character, i.e. the overall impression of the design must be different than another design which has been disclosed earlier. A particular level of originality is not required in this regard by the law.
If within 12 months prior to the application a publication of the design has occurred which goes back to the designer, the protectability of the design is not impaired (so called grace period).
3. Filing Procedure
For an application, figures (for example photographs, drawings or computer graphics) of the design to be protected are required. It also is possible to file multiple designs in a collective application.
The German Patent and Trademark Office does not examine design with regard to the the (material) requirements for protection. If the formal requirements for registrability are fulfilled, the design is registered, typically three to five months after its application.
The design patent has a maximum duration of 25 years from the filing date.
4. Design Patent Protection outside of Germany
A design patent protection may in general be obtained in almost any country of the world.
It is possible to apply for a Community design patent effective for the entire European Union.
In addition, there is the possibility, by means of an international application according to the Hague Agreement, to obtain an international design patent protection for a large number of different countries.
5. Enforcement of a Design Patent
The owner of the design patent may bar an unauthorized use of designs that are identical to the subject-matter of the design patent or whose overall impression does not differ from the subject-matter of the design patent. The design patent may be enforced by way of a legal action or, in urgent cases, by filing a request for a preliminary injunction.