Should you File Design Patents?

Editor’s Note: Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton (a leading US patent law firm) and GreyB Services collaborated to help you understand what kind of research trends 12 fast-growing tech sectors are displaying.

To achieve the objective, we analyzed the patent filing trends of these industries at the USPTO.  A copy of the full published study is available with additional detail here.

How do you differentiate between similar sedans of two different brands? Its appearance, shape, and design features create a unique impression in your mind. Isn’t it?

When a design can create such a differentiation, protecting it from being copied makes sense. This is where design patents come in. Design patents protect a product’s appearance and shape.

Starting in the early 19th century, industrial design has covered a long journey and is now thriving due to an expanded awareness of design patents in business. Today, design patents are quite popular among various industries, from apparel to furniture and high-tech sectors like consumer electronics. Apple, for example, used design patents to protect the UI of iOS and the size and shapes of iPhones, earphones, and other smartphone accessories.

One interesting fact is that design patent applications have a considerably high success rate of being allowed. This fact, along with the low cost of a design patent with no maintenance fee, contributes to the fame of design patents. In this article, we will discuss how the design patent filing trends have evolved over the last decade in the US.

How have design patent filing trends evolved over the years in the US?

Patent filings in the Design space have constantly risen with approx. 50% increase in per-year filings. (It was around 20K in 2007, whereas it is estimated to be around 30K in 2018)

Patent Filing Trend of Industrial Design

What does the Breakdown of Design Patents look like?

To have a look, we divided the design patent filings into two categories– Graphical User Interface and Industrial Design. To better understand the breakdown, the Industrial Design Cluster is divided into multiple subcategories.

The table below represents the patent filings into different categories and their sub-categories.

industrial design applications


An interesting point to note here is that the importance of design is no longer limited to some industries but has spread to cover the entire spectrum, from electronics to UI to health. This clearly indicates that no matter what industry you end up in, you might end up getting design patents for it.

Top Design Patent holders in the US

The charts show the top design patent holders in the USA. Industry giants from multiple hi-tech sectors are among the top 10, which indicates that the big players understand the importance of protecting their products’ designs.

Samsung, with 7375 patents, is way ahead of the other players. Samsung and LG are at the top due to their wide product range in the consumer electronics sector. There is a gap of 4000 patents between the top player and the runner-up.

Nike is the only footwear manufacturer on the list, with 2526 patents. This shouldn’t be a surprise, as Nike files patents—both design and utility—on wide areas like footwear, golf equipment, sports games, wearables, textiles and garments, 3D printing, and athletic performance tracking and monitoring.

Further, Nike is one of the top patent filers in the US. It has more than 5000+ US patents and ranks above companies like Ford, Pfizer, and Lockheed Martin regarding patent counts.

Ford and Honda are closely competing in the automobile sector, while Toyota, with 853 patents, is following up.

Patent Filing Trend of Industrial Design Category

The chart represents the patent filing data of Industrial Designs, excluding the category of Graphical User Interface.

The table below represents the top design patent filers in the industrial design category. Even after not including the second category of GUI, there doesn’t seem much change in the list and rank of top players.

top companies with most industrial design patents

Patent Filing Trend of Patents Related to Graphical User Interface

The below chart showcases the patent filing trend in the Graphical User Interface –

If you are looking at the number of patents, you would be interested in knowing who innovates in the GUI space. Here is the list of top patent holders in the GUI category – 


Microsoft and Samsung are at the top, which isn’t surprising. There is an ocean between the top two and other players filing design patents in GUI.

We can see Nike in the top 10 ranks again. However, the surprising insight is that ADP, which provides HR and payroll management software, is on the list. Is there any company that you feel is considered innovative but does not appear in this list?

Foreign Players Filing Design Patents in the US

Many non-US players protect their designs at the USPTO. Over the years, foreign and national players have followed almost similar trends. Their patent filing has been increasing steadily. Chinese players, however, have increased the pace since 2013. On the other hand, South Korean design patent filing in the US has started declining in recent years.

An interesting thing to note is that foreign contributions to patents filed in the US are increasing yearly, and in some cases, they have reached as much as 40% of the total filings. This should be noteworthy as it indicates that foreign competition is growing heavily in the US market.


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