The design patent protects a design, i.e. the aesthetic form of a product. This means the design of the shape, the color, the surface etc. of an object, i.e. the external impression given by an object.
An aesthetically appealing product design can be very memorable for the customer, cause them to value it highly and thus become a key buying criterion in the same way as the quality of the product or its technical functionality, which may perhaps be more similar within a product segment than an individual design.
Thus by means of a new design for a product, even where the technical content remains the same, a new incentive can be created for the customer to buy. Hence for companies, a design may also be property worth protecting, in particular if the expenditures for a design draft and the production of models and prototypes were very high.
A model or design can be registered as a German design patent with the German Patent and Trademark Office (DPMA) or also as a community design patent valid throughout the EU with the Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market (OHIM) in Alicante.
In both cases, the protection offered by the design patent is up to 25 years, starting with the date of application. For protection as a design patent, it is necessary for the overall impression of the design to be registered to differ from known designs. Since the registration is performed without a factual examination, independent research into known rival designs is recommended. Upon registration, a twelve-month grace period applies, i.e. designs already presented may also still have design patents applied for them by the entitled person for up to twelve months after their first presentation in the public domain.
The protection afforded by the registered design patent extends to the exclusive use of the design, which means that action may be taken against subsequent independent aesthetic creations by third parties which produce a corresponding overall impression.