A design patent is a way to obtain protection for the ornamental features of an invention. While a utility patent provides protection for the way an item is used or works, a design patent provides protection for the way an item looks.
For design patents, the law requires that the design be of patentable subject matter. In the case of a design patent, this means the design must be embodied in or applied to an article or manufactured good. In addition to being of patentable subject matter, the invention must be new, original and ornamental.
Because the design patent only covers the ornamental portions of the article, it provides only limited protection and lasts for a shorter duration than a utility patent, approximately 14 years versus 20 years. In addition, a design patent application must be filed within six months of public disclosure to avoid loss of patent rights.