Intellectual Property Insights from Fishman Stewart
Mini Article – Volume 23, Issue 9
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Taco ‘Bout Innovation: Cinco de Mayo and the Importance of Design Patents
Did you know General Mills got a patent on a tortilla shell?
When we think of the word “patent,” most of us think of a utility patent—which is a patent for protecting the function or a utilitarian feature of an invention. However, US patent law also allows for a patent to be granted to a design of product. A design patent protects the appearance of a product. For example, a design patent can be directed to the configuration or shape of a product, an ornamentation on the surface of the product, or to a combination of the two.
In other words, a utility patent covers how something works, but a design patent covers how something looks.
In fact, a design patent can cover a new design for an existing product. This is how General Mills obtained design patent USD759,342 for a “shaped tortilla”—a concept that has been around probably as long as the tortilla itself. The patent is not directed to a method of making a bowl out of a tortilla or to a bowl made from a tortilla. It is only directed to “the ornamental design for a shaped tortilla”—essentially, a tortilla in the drawing below:
Melissa M. Chapman is an associate attorney at Fishman Stewart and works in the firm’s Patent Practice Group. Check out her full bio here.
Published May 5, 2023
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