We’ve come a long way from the first U.S. design patent, which did not even involve a drawing.
According to USPTO projections, the 1 millionth U.S. design patent may potentially be issued in October of this year. Whenever the event happens, it will continue a fascinating history involving one of the most important intellectual property protections for Americans.
The first design patent—a protection for how something looks, not how it functions—was issued to George Bruce on November 9, 1842. Only 13 design patents were issued in that first year of eligibility.
The USPTO Design Patent Application Filing Guide says of design patents: “The drawing disclosure is the most important element of the application.”
Not so almost 200 years ago. Bruce’s design patent—for a new typeface—was described in words. He even admitted to a lack of novelty, according to research by IP Watchdog:
“I do not pretend that I am the first who have cast the Types called Script, nor the first who have cast them of the size called Double Small Pica, nor to originality in the outlines of any of the types for which I now ask a patent, nor do I wish to prevent other founders from cutting and casting similar and better articles.
“But these Types are different from all others in their size, proportions, details and impressive effects, combining peculiarities by which they are distinguishable from all others, and these as a whole I claim to be mine.”
In 1842, U.S. patent laws were updated to allow for the patenting of ornamental designs. This clarified the application process as well as the patent’s protections.
In 1902, the design patent statute was amended to define the allowable subject matter simply as “any new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture.’’