Basics of Design Search

A design search is prudent when you wish to protect the aesthetic configuration of an object. In most jurisdictions, a design patent or registration is a form of legal protection granted to the ornamental design of a functional item. A design patent is granted when the design in question does not change the functionality of the object, but only gives it a novel appearance.

That is, design patents are usually based on the ornamental aspects of surface decoration, aesthetic configuration, appearance and shape of an item. In contrast to a utility patent, a design patent is issued for aesthetic features for a new or an improved outward appearance; however, the subject claimed in the design patent may have some practical utility.

For example, India’s Design Act, 2000 was enacted to consolidate and amend the law relating to the protection of design and to comply with the articles 25 and 26 of TRIPS agreement. The new act, (earlier Patent and Design Act, 1911 was repealed by this act) now defines “design” to mean only the features of shape, configuration, pattern, ornament, or composition of lines or colors applied to any article, whether in two- or three-dimensional, or in both forms, by any industrial process or means, whether manual or mechanical or chemical, separate or combined, which in the finished article appeal to and are judged solely by the eye; but does not include any mode or principle of construction.

‘Original’ in relation to a design, means:

  1. originating from the author of design, and
  2. include the cases, which though old in themselves yet are new in their application. For instance, the figure of Taj Mahal is centuries old. But if a person conceives for the first time, the idea of making a flower vase or an ashtray in the form of a figure of Taj Mahal, that may be an original design and can be registered.

Design Search helps you determine whether your proposed design is new and distinctive, and therefore worth registering or not. A search will also determine if a similar design has already been registered. In essence, it is a visual search that requires analyzing volumes of designs that are registered with patent offices or known in public domain. Design patents primarily contain drawings. Due to the fact that design patents have minimal words defining the aspects of the design, a prior art search mainly involves design class codes and only broad keywords. In other words, due to the limited textual data available for designs, only in few cases will the search be limited by keywords.

Several databases containing information on designs that have been registered internationally may be found on the Internet, e.g. the database of the World Intellectual Patent Organization (WIPO) and the database of The Trademarks and Designs Registration Office of the European Union (OHIM). Generally, design search will be conducted using the Locarno Classification and/or National Office systems (e.g. USPC, GB Design Classification). We will cover these in detail over the next few articles.

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