This article supplements our previous post with updated 2021 data.
U.S. design patents continue to grow in popularity. Although 2021 saw a slight downtick in the number of issued design patents compared to the previous two years—most likely caused by lower filings during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic—the number of U.S. design patents that issued in 2021 was still greater than the number of U.S. design patents that issued in each year between 2012-2018, and was more than 50% greater than the number of U.S. design patents that issued in 2012. With the number of U.S. design patent examiners also increasing, we expect the number of issued designs in 2022 to outpace 2021 and possibly set a new annual issuance record.
GUIs Remain King
As outlined in our previous article, graphical user interfaces (GUIs) are one of the most popular articles of manufacture identified in recent U.S. design patents. Therefore, to no surprise, design patent claims directed to GUIs of a display screen (or portions thereof) were still one of the most common “articles of manufacture” identified in U.S. design patents issued in 2021. As shown in the graph below, the number of U.S. design patents including the phrase “graphical user interface” in the claim continued to grow rapidly in 2021, increasing by more than 17% when compared to 2020. After leveling off during 2018 and 2019, the number of GUI design patent claims have been growing steadily over the past couple of years. In fact, as shown below, while issuance numbers for many of the most popular articles of manufacture remained steady or decreased from 2020 to 2021, GUI design patents had a significant increase in popularity during this same timeframe.
Further, in light of the explosion in popularity of GUI design patents over the past decade, and despite GUI design patents only existing since 1992, design patents including the phrase “graphical user interface” in the claim have nearly become one of the most popular types of U.S. design patents issued in the past 50 years (see chart below). At current rates, within the next five years the total number of issued GUI design patents could overtake design patents including “container” in the claim, looking back at the previous half century of issuance numbers.
Portion Claiming on the Rise
Furthermore, U.S. design patent claims directed to a “portion” of an article of manufacture continued to grow in 2021 despite the U.S. Supreme Court not yet having the opportunity to rule on the four-factor test previously outlined in Apple v. Samsung. As illustrated in the graph below, the number of issued design patents with claims directed to a “portion” (both GUI and not) has hit its highest mark since 2016.
Through recent filing trends, it remains clear that GUI design patents will continue to be one of the most popular articles of manufacture named in U.S. design patents and will have a major impact on caselaw and other developments in the design law realm. Further, unless filing trends shift or new case law emerges, GUIs will soon become the most patented article of manufacture in U.S. design patent history. Therefore, for the foreseeable future, it is safe to say that GUIs remain king in the design patent space.
The Quarles & Brady design rights legal team is nationally-recognized for its extensive knowledge and practice experience in this complex and important field. For questions about this article or on how to incorporate design-related legal rights into your intellectual property portfolio, please contact the author(s) of this post directly or send a message to the team via our Contact page.