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By Sanjeev Kumar
Founding Attorney

What elements of a store’s design can be protected through a design patent?

The look and feel of your retail location are likely a driving factor behind your success.  Customers often come to a certain store, over competing options, because they know and appreciate the overall style of the store. Your “look” might include your arrangement of items for sale or services, a unique display, a signature floor design, and much more.  Retailers often miss out on protecting the design of their store because they are unaware intellectual property law could give them much needed legal protection.  A design patent can be the ideal tool for some retail owners to guard their unique design and prevent copycats.

Utility vs. Design Patent

When most of us think of patents, we conjure an image of the traditional utility patent. Utility patents are the most common form of patents and they protect the way something works.  These patents are often issued for novel new inventions, software creations, and the like.  However, utility patents are not the sole type of patent.  Design patents are less known, but offer critical protection for the way something looks, as opposed to how it works.  To achieve protection, the design must simply be new in appearance. 

Design patents are easier to apply for, cheaper, and faster.  If you are granted a design patent, it will allow you to stop others from using a design protected per the patent.  Your design patent application will need images of the design along with descriptors, but it is far less tedious than a utility patent.  It is considered important to file for one as soon as possible before the design has been disclosed to the public.

Protections Afforded by a Design Patent

Design patents can cover a broad array of designs that may be included in a retail store.  Design patents could, for instance, cover the building itself, items from the interior of the store, fixtures within the store, and other like portions of the store.  The only limitation is that you must be able to depict the design clearly within the application.  To fully protect the look of your store, you may in fact need to file a few design patents.  By protecting the aspects of your store that most contribute to its look and feel, you can best guard your store against competitors who may attempt to copy your unique look.


About the Author
Sanjeev Kumar is the founder and principal at the Kumar Law Firm, which provides a wide range of legal services to entrepreneurs and business owners in the area of business & corporate law and intellectual property along with related areas of interest to clients such as business succession planning, wealth preservation through estate planning, and alternate dispute resolution.