IP protection for design businesses in the United States 

Illustration: Enni Koistinen
Illustration: Enni Koistinen

This article is part of #DESIGNIPR, an online guide to making your design business more profitable, more competitive and safer on the international markets with the support of IP rights (IPR). Written by legal adviser of Ornamo Jussi Ilvonen, the online guide gives an overview to markets and law in the EU, US, China and Japan. 

Part 3: IP protection for design businesses in the United States 


In overall, in the US the IPR protection is very similar to, for example, the EU, which is largely due to a number of international IPR treaties in the background. However, as shown later on in this part of the IPR guide, there are also a number of small and sometimes in practice very significant differences. Therefore a good preparation prior to doing design business or business with design products is highly recommended.

Successfully entering the US market in the first place can be a very difficult operation. The amount and intensity of competition is high and e.g. in the case of patentable inventions it can be also relatively aggressive. Court trials and other means of IPR dispute resolution are generally expensive also in the US, so pre-emptive strategic planning of the protection of one’s design and business around it is key – including especially liability limiting contractual clauses with one’s local manufacturer-, distributor- and other partners, and possibly also company IPR insurances.

Due to United States’ legal nature as a federation, both state and federal legislation should be taken into account with IPR protection and strategy. This being said, in most cases IPR protection may be registered throughout the country via the federal IPR officials, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and U.S. Copyright Office. Let’s take a bit closer look on different IPR protection options for a design business in the USA.



Copyright (Finnish: tekijänoikeus) 


Design patent (in other parts of the world also known as design right. Finnish: mallioikeus) 


Trademark (Finnish: tavaramerkki) 


Trade dress 


Utility patent (known in e.g. Europe simply as a patentFinnish: patentti) 


Some other forms of IP protection for designers to be aware of 

Earlier issues:

#DESIGNIPR is part of Ornamo’s national IPR project supported by the The Ministry of Education and Culture Finland.