Anyone who has ever manufactured or sold a new vehicle model can tell you — design may not be everything, but it does much of the heavy lifting when it comes to commercial sales. An automobile’s design is the first impression a customer has of the vehicle, and that first impression can sometimes carry all the way to purchase. And while, yes, there are car enthusiasts who will have a detailed list of specs that they will need for their new car, the truth is even well-researched buyers often have a mental image of the way they want their new car to look.
What driver doesn’t have a fantasy of looking really cool as they cruise down the road, at least once?
Automobile design is crucial to sales, and that’s why it can be so devastating if a competitor steals your design and gains more commercial success. Today, we’ll share with you the steps you need to take to protect your automobile design, and why it matters.
Why It’s Important To Protect Your Automobile Design
The automobile industry is fiercely competitive. So what happens if a competitor creates a cheap knock-off of your new model and it gets more sales than your automobile?
This is a situation that has happened, and in recent cases, as well. One such case was that of Jaguar Land Rover Ltd. (JLR) and Jiangling Holdings Co., Ltd. JLR had long claimed that Jiangling Holdings, a Chinese car manufacturer, had copied the design for the Range Rover Evoque in their Lufeng X7. While the Range Rover Evoque was known for its high quality, the Lufeng X7 was considerably cheaper and had attained quite a bit of popularity in China.
JLR felt that this was driving business away from them, and in 2016, they sued Jiangling Holdings in an anti-unfair competition lawsuit. After five years that made up the original trial, as well as appeals on behalf of JLR, the court upheld the anti-unfair competition claim, conceding that Jiangling Holdings did intentionally create a design and marketing material similar to the Range Rover Evoque.
So what can you do to protect your vehicle’s design? You can file for a design patent for your automobile.
What Is a Design Patent?
Patents are typically categorized in one of two ways: utility or design. A design patent is a patent that is filed to protect the unique design or aesthetic of a product. You may see this in the trademark Coca Cola bottles or even the Statue of Liberty. But design patents can be used to protect automobile designs, as well. Ford Motors currently holds nearly 2,000 design patents.
In order to be eligible for a design patent, your design should meet the following criteria:
- The design must be new and non-obvious
- The design must not be entirely functional
If you have a unique vehicle design that will become integral to your marketing of the vehicle, a design patent is a great way to ensure that cheap knock-off vehicles don’t appear on the market and steal your thunder.
Applying For a Design Patent
In order to apply for a design patent, you may wish to conduct a patent search to make sure a similar design doesn’t already exist — or better yet, have your attorney conduct the patent search to make sure that it’s thorough. However, it is not uncommon to have design applications filed without a search if the product is already slated for sale. Your attorney can also conduct an infringement search to make sure that marketing your vehicle will not infringe on anyone else’s patent.
Once the search is done, your attorney can fill out the patent application. They will need a title, a description of the design and what makes it unique, as well as an abstract introducing the design. You may need to present figures — drawings or photographs or a combination of the two — along with descriptions of the figures for a visual representation of the design. From there, you can pay the application fee and your attorney can file the application.
“Ford Tough” Design Patent Examples For Automobiles
As we mentioned, Ford Motors has nearly 2,000 patents for various design aspects of their American-made vehicles. This includes a patent for the hood and headlights of the Ford F-150, and even a patented windshield. This ensures that the traits that make the Ford F-150 design unique stay unique, and that the competition can’t copy them.
How Long Does It Take For a Design Patent To Be Granted?
On average, design patents take about 15 months to be granted. This is a considerably shorter wait than the average time for a utility patent — about 35 months — but it can still feel like a drag. The good news is, once your patent application is filed, you have a “patent pending” status. This protects others from stealing your design idea and trying to patent it themselves before your patent is granted or denied.
Need help applying for a design patent to protect your automobile design? Contact Garcia-Zamor Intellectual Property Law, LLC today to learn more or to schedule a consultation.