On November 16, 2023, the USPTO published a new final rule establishing the creation of a separate design patent bar. The final rule follows up on a notice of proposed rulemaking first published in May 2023 where the separate design patent bar was first contemplated. Currently there is only one patent bar which oversees everyone who practices in patent matters before the USPTO, regardless of whether they practice in design patents, utility patents, plant patents, or a combination thereof.
Traditionally, individuals seeking registration to practice in patent matters before the USPTO, including in utility, plant, and design patents, must be admitted to the patent bar. Eligibility for admission required an accredited college or university degree in limited technical subject areas (or an equivalent). These subjects are strictly limited to certain science and engineering degrees, such as biology, biochemistry, biomedical engineering, chemical engineering, computer engineering, computer science, electrical engineering, molecular biology, and other such degrees.2 This requirement applied regardless of the type of patent application the prospective practitioner was seeking to prosecute.
The USPTO points to an increasing number of design patent applications as the reason why they are implementing this new license. According to Kathi Vidal, Director of the USPTO, “Year over year we continue to receive more design patent applications, illustrating the importance of design protection to industry and our economy”. Vidal further stated, “Expanding the admission criteria of the patent bar encourages broader participation and keeps up with the ever-evolving technology and related teachings that qualify someone to practice before the USPTO.”
The new design patent bar would allow for applicants with a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate degree in industrial design, product design, architecture, applied arts, graphic design, fine/studio arts, art teacher education, or an equivalent to take a modified patent bar exam to practice exclusively with regards to design patent cases. Design practitioners registered under the separate design bar will be required to place the word “design” (in any format) adjacent to their handwritten signature as well as adjacent to the last forward slash of their S-signature in order to indicate their design patent practitioner status.
The new rule will have no direct impact on patent practitioners already licensed to practice before the USPTO. Additionally, the existing patent bar exam remains unchanged, and applicants passing that exam will still be able to practice on all patent matters, including design patents. Professional and knowledgeable patent counsel that can navigate the different types of patent applications and practices are more important than ever. Maier & Maier has practitioners knowledgeable in all forms of patent practice, including attorneys with years of design patent experience.