What is a Design Patent?
A design patent is a patent that provides for a limited time (~ 14 years) protection on an ornamental aspect of a functional item. What does this mean? A good example is a piece of silverware. Generally, the design of the silverware is not necessarily related to how the silverware works or functions. Rather, the design is pleasing the the eye -- attracting customers to the silverware, generating commercial value. Other examples of functional items having ornamental aspects include automotive wheels and dress, shoe or clothing designs.
A business may find a design patent useful, even on an "ugly" machine, where it is desired to prevent others from making a product with the same appearance to compete with theirs. Generally, if the appearance is functional or required to perform the product's function, seeking design patent protection may not be appropriate. However, each situation is unique and requires review to determine whether ornamental aspects may exist in the product.