Design patents can provide for protection for ornamentation and the shape or appearance of an appearance of an item or product — its look and feel. They are important to an overall intellectual property protection strategy because design patents might be able to help protect rights to features or aspects of a product that utility patents and trademarks or trade dress will not. The U.S. is implementing some changes to the design patent application process that will provide longer patent terms and make international patent protection potentially more available.
United States joining Hague Union
In 2012, the U.S. enacted the Patent Law Treaties Implementation Act which necessitated various changes to U.S. patent laws that would allow the U.S to participate in a broader agreement streamlining international registration of design patents. The U.S. has recently ratified these changes and effective May 13, 2015, will be a member of The Hague Union, which is an international organization of countries that have ratified the various provisions of the Hague System for the International Registration of Industrial Designs. Membership in the Hague Union provides a number of benefits to design patent applicants.
First, the term of a design patent will be extended by one year, to 15 years. Second, because the Hague Union is international, membership will allow U.S. applicants to seek design patent registration simultaneously in over 60 countries by a single application. While a single application may allow for multiple filing, each designated country will examine the application under its own standards and can issue refusals. Such refusals would not necessarily impact validity of the application in any other country.
These new changes and membership in the Hague Union will provide significant additional protection to owners of design patents and will allow those with international interests to protect those interests in a more streamlined and economic fashion.
If you would like to discuss how these changes may impact your business or to discuss your international Intellectual Property issues generally, please feel free to call to set up a conference with our IP group.
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