Building designs are protectable by both utility patents, which protect the functional aspects of a design, and design patents, which protect to ornamental features of a design. Many architectural firms actively protect their designs, both with utility patents and design patents. Some buildings can be protected with several patents including both utility patents and design patents.

To be patentable, the object must be new, useful and non-obvious. The newness standard requires that the invention has not have been publicly disclosed prior to the filing date of the patent application (with limited exceptions). The usefulness standard requires that it has a use, which should not be a problem with architectural designs (except for certain “post-modern” designs). The non-obviousness standard requires that one of ordinary skill in the art (architecture in this case) would not have been motivated to combine prior art references (e.g. existing buildings and publications) to achieve the claimed building. The question of non-obviousness involves a complex legal analysis, which requires the advice of a patent attorney.

For example, US Patent 8,371,073 protects a building with integrated systems that reduce dependency on external resources; US Patent 2,172,838 protects a slanted building with an offset arrangement of successive stories; and US Patent 3,866,363 protects a wind energy dissipating building. Similarly, utility patents can protect functional elements associated with a building, such as lighting systems (e.g., US Patent 8,172,435), bio-retention basins (e.g., US Patent 8,834,066) and window covering head rail cornices (e.g., US Patent 5,042,548). US Patent 8,336,261 protects an entire revolving roof for a stadium.

When thinking about which functional aspects to protect, think of every aspect of the architectural design: foundations, framing systems, utility distribution systems, energy management systems, people placement and transport systems, glazing systems, roofing systems, room layouts, etc. (As any architect can appreciate, the list can be quite lengthy.

Design patents protect the ornamental features of a useful object. Ornamental features are features that serve aesthetic purposes and a useful object is simply an object that has an identifiable use. Design patents can be extremely powerful tools that an architect can use to keep imitators away from a valuable design. Design patents can protect the ornamental features of entire buildings. For example, the Manhattan Apple Store is protected by design patent D648,864. Additional examples include: a dwelling structure (that might be described as “post-modern”) is protected by D477,417; a pyramidal theatre building is protected by D256,163; and a twisted high-rise building is protected by D304,081. Design patents can also protect individual design elements that are part of a building. For example, D553,763 protects balusters; D 393,319 protects cornices and D245,424 protects fountains. Any novel ornamental aspect that gives a building its unique character can be protected with a design patent.


  1. Contract Law
  2. Companies Act, 2013
  3. Design Act, 2000
  4. Copyrights
  5. Patents Act, 1970




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