By Debby Winters
With the backlog of up to 4 years or longer at the patent office, many people ask if they should try to get a design patent when they have an invention that relates to the configuration or shape of an article. Design patents frequently can be obtained in as little as 6 to 8 months so they should not be ruled out in building a patent portfolio if the invention allows for one. Remember that any patent is frequently better than no patent. In building a patent portfolio, a series of design patents can sometimes be very powerful. Many times a design patent, although thought to be weaker than a utility patent, can still be used to scare away competitors, particularly if your competitors a small entities. Because design patents protect the way something looks rather than the way something functions, often a portfolio of design patents are used to build a strong wall around the invention. You should also consider a strategy of obtaining several design patents while your utility patent is pending. A combination of utility and design patents make an excellent team in protecting your intellectual property rights.