In the US, designs can be patented. According to the US Patent & Trademark Office:
Design patents are often overlooked and patent searchers often deliberately exclude them from their searches. Normally, patent searchers focus on utility patents – the patents that cover the "structural or utilitarian features". Every year, IFI CLAIMS publishes its list of the top US patent assignees. See for example IFI CLAIMS 2015 Top 50. When compiling our Top 50 list, IFI includes only Utility patent grants and applications. Until now, IFI has not published a Top 50 for Design Patents.
But IFI CLAIMS has not forgotten about design patents and we do think they are important. US Design patents (and plant patents) are maintained in the IFI CLAIMS Global Patent Database. Design patents are available through the CLAIMS Direct Web Service and API.
2015 US Design Patent Top 50For the record, here is the 2015 US Design Top 50:
|1||Samsung Electronics Co Ltd||1428|
|2||LG Electronics Inc||455|
|6||Koninklijke Philips NV||166|
|7||Ford Motor Co||143|
|9||Honda Motor Co Ltd||100|
|10||3M Innovative Properties Co||89|
|11||Procter and Gamble Co||85|
|12||Target Brands Inc||84|
|13||Bayerische Motoren Werke AG||78|
|14||GM Global Technology Operations LLC||68|
|16||Panasonic Intellectual Property Management Co Ltd||66|
|17||Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co||65|
|18||Johnson S C and Son Inc||64|
|18||Michelin Recherche et Technique SA Switzerland||64|
|18||Robert Bosch GmbH||64|
|22||Compagnie Generale des Establissements Michelin et Cie||62|
|24||General Electric Co||52|
|24||Hewlett Packard Development Co LP||52|
|26||Deere and Co||51|
|29||BSH Home Appliances Corp||48|
|29||Jaguar Land Rover Ltd||48|
|31||Toyota Motor Corp||47|
|32||Brother Kogyo KK||45|
|33||Suncast Technologies LLC||44|
|36||Harry Winston SA||40|
|38||Kimree Hi-Tech Inc||38|
|38||Spectrum Diversified Designs Inc||38|
|43||Japan Aviation Electronics Industry Ltd||35|
|43||Tencent Technology (Shenzhen) Co Ltd||35|
|49||FCA US LLC||34|
|49||Magpul Industries Corp||34|
|49||Mitsubishi Electric Corp||34|
|49||Storz Karl GmbH and Co KG||34|
There were a total of 26,000 design patents issued by the USPTO in 2015. This compares with 298,407 utility patents issued.
Design patents are used less frequently than utility patents. In 2015, Samsung received 5,072 utility patents (ranking it #2 behind IBM’s 7,355). Samsung tops the Design patent list with 1,428 design patents. This list is based on IFI CLAIMS Standardized Assignee data and CLAIMS Direct.
Design ClassificationsThere are patent classifications specific to design patents. Here are the top 10 patent classifications in 2015. The classification code, record count and definition are shown. Also shown is a recent example of a design in each classification. CLAIMS Direct provides these drawings through the attachment API.
Classification D21 “Games, Toys and Sports Equipment” is ranked #12. This category provides what are arguably the best images, such as US-D765191-S1 “Toy doll” from Little Kids Inc.
Apple vs. SamsungLooking at the Top 10 classifications, we can see that D14 “Recording, Communication, or Information Retrieval Equipment” dominates the other classifications. D14 illustrates why Design patents are very important.
According to Wikipedia:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apple_Inc._v._Samsung_Electronics_Co. There have been many appeals.
On October 11, 2016, the case was argued before the US Supreme Court. See http://www.theverge.com/2016/10/11/13241446/samsung-vs-apple-supreme-court-design-patents.
It is interesting that not only is D14 (covering communications equipment) the top design classification, but that Samsung is the top recipient of design patents. In 2015, they received nearly 8 times as many design patents as Apple did.
What is the final word on this case? We don't know yet. On October 11, the issue was argued before the US Supreme Court.