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Can I get a single design patent for a design with multiple interchangeable parts? Let's say I design a hat with multiple interchangeable decorative parts. You could buy the base hat with some velcro or other fastening method and then buy various heads, tails and legs to change it's appearance. The parts would be sold in sets: a horse, a cow, a chicken etc.

Can I apply for one design patent for the whole system including the various parts? If so, would I need a new patent very time I added a new set of animal parts? Or would I have to apply for a separate patent for each set of parts?

I am thinking of Crocs with those little decorative buttons they attach to the holes. Would that have been one patent that covered that whole decorative shoe system? Would they have illustrated the exact design of each button prior to applying for the patent? And reapplied every time they wanted to add new ones to the line?

Thanks for the advice!

  • A design patent is for the "ornamental design", i.e. the look, of something. Is that what you want to protect -- the design or look of the hat and its parts, the horse, cow, chicken, etc? Or are you seeking a utility patent for the hat system -- the idea that it has interchangeable parts, Velcro fastening, etc? – Riccati Sep 19 '17 at 23:36
  • I talked to two separate lawyers who said that it was highly unlikely that I would be granted utility patent but that a design patent was a good choice. So yes, I want to protect the design of it and it's parts. The question is whether I can file one application that includes all the parts. – Kristen M Sep 20 '17 at 6:05
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    Thanks for clarifying the question. It is too far outside my expertise to provide a definitive answer, but here are two things you can do: (1) go to mpep.uspto.gov and navigate to section 1504.01(b) ("Design Comprising Multiple Articles or Multiple Parts Embodied in a Single Article") (2) call the USPTO and ask to speak to a design patent examiner. Might take some persistence to get one on the line, but you can do it. – Riccati Sep 20 '17 at 20:13
  • After reading MPEP 1504.05 and knowing all about restriction in utility patent cases, I will take a guess that the answer to your question is: no, you will need a new design application for each horse, cow, chicken, etc. That is only a guess. Talk to a design patent examiner at the USPTO. – Riccati Sep 20 '17 at 20:22
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A design patent application can have more than one embodiment as long as they are visually related. One example I have seen is a soda bottle with a specific set of spiral lines. One embodiment had the lines going clock wise and another had them going counter clockwise. Another approach, if your hat is distinctive enough, is to show the decoration in dashed lines and state that the portion in dashed lines is not part of the claimed design. Then the specific decoration can be swapped out for an alternate one. You are patenting the hat with some decoration, not with any specific decoration. An example is google's initial home page layout It has "FROOGLE" in dashed lines meaning that it was a placeholder for what ever the name might be.

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