Challenging established processes is a commonly recognized leadership principle. In recent weeks, the emphasis by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) on reconsidering and reforming patent bar eligibility, especially with regard to a potential design patent bar, represents a significant challenge to well-established Patent Office procedures. If the health and viability of an organization can be defined in terms of its ability to revisit, revamp and evolve existing rules and procedures, then this initiative, led by Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO Kathi Vidal, represents a healthy and viable intellectual property community.
In two separate precedential opinions issued Friday, October 28, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) vacated two separate preliminary injunction orders granted by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois against hoverboard products alleged to infringe four design patents due to “substantive defects” in the court’s reasoning for granting the injunctions. Judges Dyk, Taranto and Stoll heard both appeals.
For most people, what comes to mind when they hear the word “patent” might be an invention like the lightbulb—Thomas Edison’s version rather than Sawyer and Man’s, probably—or the telephone—another hotly-contested invention between Alexander Graham Bell and the lesser-known Elisha Gray….What the average person might not be aware of is the type of patent intended to protect “any new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture.” This is the domain of the design patent…. Traditionally, design patents covered physical designs that had some tangible effect on the shape, or texture of the “article of manufacture.” Over time, design patent protection extended to cover screen layouts and graphical user interfaces (“GUIs”)…. Two recent cases are some of the rare examples of a company arguing infringement solely based on GUI design patents.
In the latest episode of IP Practice Vlogs, we will explore design patents, which protect the ornamental features of a functional item. Apple’s AirPods are functional but have a distinctive look that is identifying of its brand and maker, making them a great subject. The first thing you do when patenting anything, including a design, is to decide the scope of your claim. In design patents, your scope is determined by what you claim, what you show and what you describe. Claimed features are depicted by solid lines. Dashed lines depict unclaimed features that provide environmental context for your claimed features that are in solid lines.
On June 22, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) affirmed a decision by the United States District Court for the Southern District of California granting summary judgment in favor of Golden Eye Media USA Inc (GEM) over Evo Lifestyle Products Limited, formerly known as Trolley Bags UK Ltd (TB UK) after holding TB UK’s U.S. Design Patent No. D779,828 (‘828 patent) invalid. The district court held the ‘828 patent to be invalid for reasons of functionality and obviousness.
The Hague Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Industrial Designs (the “Hague Agreement”) will enter into force in China next week, on May 5. Together with the original Paris Convention approach, there will now be two different options for filing design patents in China: the Hague system (designated extension) and the Paris Convention (direct entry). Based on our experience and analysis of the relevant regulations, we have the following preliminary suggestions on how foreign applicants should choose to enter China.
Is the scope of a design patent determined by the figures alone? Two recent Federal Circuit decisions highlight that the words describing the article of manufacture in the title and claims can indeed limit the scope and enforceability of a design patent. In particular, the title and claims of the design patent contain important information that provide a more accurate and predictable notice of what is and is not protected by the design patent. Thus, the title and the claims of a design patent are particularly relevant to the scope of the patent—both for procurement and enforcement.
Oshkosh Corporation has run through a $6.7 billion contract to produce the first 17,000 Joint Light Tactical Vehicles (JLTVs) in a Department of Defense (DOD) program that could produce 55,000 vehicles for the Army and Marines. Oshkosh won the low-rate initial production (LRIP) contract in 2015 to be the sole manufacturer of JLTVs by submitting an original, technologically superior design in a litigated competition with other, arguably, more dominant players in the defense market. Bids for the contract to produce the next tranche of over 15,000 vehicles are due later this year. Competitors for the $7.3 billion recompete contract, including GM Defense, AM General and Navistar, will have access to the proprietary design of the JLTV that Oshkosh used to win the LRIP contract. The U.S. Government has made available to interested bidders a Technical Data Package (TDP) covering the JLTV after purchasing an option in 2016. Oshkosh, however, maintains an intellectual property (IP) portfolio that could counter the sale of the TDP.
Last week, the Federal Circuit Court reversed the Patent Trial and Appeal Board decision in In re Surgisil, L.L.P., overturning the Board’s ruling that a design for a rolled-paper art tool for blending anticipated Surgisil’s (Applicant) claimed lip implant. In re Surgisil, L.L.P., No. 2020-1940, 2021 WL 4515275 (Fed. Cir. Oct. 4, 2021). Although the “stump” art tool cited as prior art in Surgisil resembled Applicant’s lip implant (see below), the Federal Circuit found that Applicant’s “claim is limited to lip implants and does not cover other articles of manufacture.” From this finding, the Surgisil court appears to extrapolate a symmetry by which a design for an artist’s stump is both ineligible for citation against Applicant’s lip implant in patent prosecution and also not covered in a putative enforcement of Applicant’s design.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit yesterday reversed the Patent Trial and Appeal Board’s (PTAB’s) finding that Campbell Soup Company, Campbell Sales Company, and Trinity Manufacturing, LLC did not demonstrate the claimed designs of Gamon, Inc.’s design patents would have been obvious over the prior art. The CAFC held that the designs were obvious because Gamon did not prove a nexus between commercial success and the claims, and because the evidence of Trinity’s copying did not overcome the strong evidence of obviousness provided by the prior art.
Design patents provide powerful protections both on their own and as a complement to their more well-known cousin, utility patents. The highly publicized Apple v. Samsung lawsuits of the previous decade featured both design and utility patents, and revitalized public awareness of design patents in general. In fact, it was infringement of the design patents that resulted in the large damages awards in those litigations, with three design patents resulting in an award of $533.3 million and two utility patents only $5.3 million. Beyond the likelihood of greater money damages, as compared to their utility patent counterparts design patents are also less expensive to obtain and hold, offer simpler determinations of infringement and validity, and are less susceptible to being invalidated (whether, e.g., for non-patent eligible subject matter or via a post-grant procedure). As such, design patents are more likely to survive, potentially resulting in substantial damages for the patent holder.
You have probably heard of a company called Apple. They sell computers, watches, tablets and all kinds of accessories. You have probably also heard that Apple was engaged in a patent war with Samsung Electronics, which was fought all over the world and finally resolved after many years of litigation. What you might not be familiar with is the fact that, in the United States, it was not Apple’s utility patent portfolio that was found infringed by Samsung. Apple had to rely on design patents to prevail over Samsung. If design patents are powerful enough for Apple to use to prevail over Samsung, then it makes sense that anyone who has a unique visual presentation to their products should consider whether adding design protection to their portfolio is a wise decision— which it probably is.
Once upon a time, one of the ways you could spot scams from legitimate operators in the patent industry was to look at who was directing clients to get design patents. Design patents have always been easy to obtain, indeed, far easier to obtain than a utility patent. Of course, as with many things in life and with virtually everything in the realm of intellectual property law, the easier something is to obtain the less valuable it is to own. This general rule about easier and cheaper rights has been turned upside down in recent years with respect to design patents, at least to some extent. Unfortunately, not nearly enough individuals and companies are seeking design patent protection. In 2019, for example, there were 46,847 design patent applications filed, which represents 7.01% of the total number of patent applications filed in 2019. So, although design patents are being filed in larger numbers year after year (See Figure 1), as a percentage of the overall number of patent applications filed, they are largely staying within the 50-year historical norm (See Figure 2). Data taken from U.S. Patent Activity.
Simply said, the rights provided by one design patent will be extremely unsatisfactory. However, design patents must be considered because a design patent can in many instances be awarded in as few as six to nine months. If obtaining some protection is important for an overall marketing strategy, getting at least some protection quickly may be advantageous compared to waiting the two to three years it will likely take to obtain a utility patent. Design patents can also be an extremely useful tool for a variety of reasons.
Accurate and clear patent drawings strengthen and enhance patent applications, helping patent examiners who are already overburdened with applications to understand inventions faster. In this article, we will be covering the essential points on the importance of patent drawings and how we can make the drawings feasible for filing at the USPTO. We will also cover some important guidelines to help you to avoid unwanted office actions.