Should you file a design patent?

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? Through its appearance, shape, and design features that create a unique impression in your mind. Isn’t it?

When a design can create such a differentiation, it makes sense to protect it from being copied. There is where design patents come in. Design patents protect the appearance and shape of a product.

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

One interesting fact is that design patent applications have considerably a high success rate of getting 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 are evolving over the last decade in the US.

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

Patent filings in the Design space have been on a constant rise with approx. 50% increase in per year filings. (It was around 20K in 2007 whereas it is estimated 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 understand the breakdown better, the Industrial Design Cluster is further divided into multiple subcategories.

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

industrial design applications

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

Top Design Patent holders in the US

The charts show the top design patent holders in the USA. We can see industry giants from multiple hi-tech sectors in the top-10. This indicates that the big players understand the importance of protecting the design of their products.


Samsung with 7375 patents is way ahead than 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 with 2526 patents is the only footwear manufacturer on the list. It shouldn’t come as a surprise as Nike files patents—both as design and utility— on wide areas like footwear, golf equipment, sports game, wearable, textile and garments, 3D printing, 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, Lockheed Martin in terms of patent counts.

Ford and Honda in automobile sectors seem to be in a close competition, 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 to know who all are innovating in the GUI space? Here is the list of top patent holders in the GUI category – 

Microsoft and Samsung at the top aren’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 seeing ADP that provides HR and Payroll management software on the list. Any company that you feel is considered as innovative but is not appearing in this list?

Foreign Players Filing Design Patents in the US

A lot of non-US players are protecting their designs at the USPTO. Over the year, almost similar trends are followed by foreign as well as national players. Their patent filing has been increasing steadily. Chinese players, however, have increased the pace since 2013. On the other hand, the South Koreans design patent filing in the US has started declining in recent years.

An interesting thing to note is that year on year, foreign contributions towards patents being filed in US are increasing and it has in some cases reached as far as 40% of the total filings. This should be a noteworthy situation as it indicates that foreign competition is growing heavily in the US market.

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