In the landscape of intellectual property practice in the United States, a significant transformation was introduced on January 2nd, 2024 with the introduction by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) of a bar dedicated to design patents.
The origins of this initiative can undoubtedly be traced to the increase in the number of design patent applications in the United States, which led to the publication of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) by the USPTO in May 2023, which outlined the possibility of establishing a separate bar for design patents. Subsequently, on October 22nd, a Request for Comments (RFC) was published to gather further input from interested parties.
The USPTO, in response to the comments received, officially announced the introduction of a specific bar for design patents, marking a step forward in the regulation of patent practice, also considering the growing importance of design patents in the general context of industry and the US economy.
The creation of the Design Patent Bar was also motivated by the need to harmonize skills between design patent professionals and their USPTO examiners, thus aligning the selection criteria for both categories. Furthermore, supporters of the initiative believe that this can encourage wider participation, offering opportunities for under-represented groups to assist inventors from different backgrounds.
The USPTO has set the criteria for admission to the new Design Patent Bar: applicants must have a bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree in specific areas, such as industrial design, product design, architecture, applied arts, graphic design, fine arts or art teacher education. Without prejudice to the academic requirements, aspiring professionals in this sector will still have to pass the same bar examination to which traditional patent professionals are subjected, but with scientific and technical requirements modified to reflect the specificities of design patents.
Once admitted to the Design Patent Bar, professionals are required to indicate their specialized status by including the term “design” in their signatures. This serves to clearly identify their qualification and ensure a truthful representation to the public.
The introduction of the new bar does not affect the ability of professionals already registered with the Regular Patent Bar to practice in relation to any patent matters, including design patents.