Two independent errors warrant reversal, but to be fair, the district court did not have the benefit of the Supreme Court’s decision in Teva. Now, the Federal Circuit has the opportunity to address the interplay of Teva with claim construction in design patents. This is a much needed clarification.
The USPTO will soon publish the Final Rules governing processing and examination of international design applications filed pursuant to the Hague Agreement. The Agreement and the USPTO’s Final Rules are all expected to go into effect on May 13, 2015. U.S. design patents resulting from applications filed on or after May 13, 2015 will have a 15 year term.
The Federal Circuit has a unique opportunity to clarify the law concerning damages under § 289 in the Apple v. Samsung case. Focusing on the scope of infringement and causation can give meaning to the language of § 289 and its legislative history, while also alleviating concerns about absurd results such as the award of total profits from a $100,000 piece of construction equipment when a lug nut with a patented design is applied to the piece of equipment. Infringement of the lug nut’s design should not result in lost profits on the $100,000 piece of equipment, but to affirm the holding in the instant case could indeed lead to such an absurdity.
Nike saw the largest increase in grants of any company. The Oregon company secured 159 more design patents than in 2012, and jumped from 10th to 3rd. Accompanying the resurgence of the U.S. automotive industry, Ford improved its standing among top design patent recipients by more than any other company. The company – ranked 36th previously – secured 10th position in this year’s ranking. The top ten list is completed by other consumer product mega-corporations including Apple, LG, Procter & Gamble, Panasonic, Research in Motion (RIM), and 3M. In 2013, seven companies held onto their top ten status. This change awarded Panasonic, 3M, and Ford the opportunity to break into the top 10, meanwhile, Toyota, Philips and FIH, a subsidiary of Foxconn, fell to 12th, 14th, and 25th respectively.
The past decade has seen tremendous growth in design patent filings, increasing from 582,000 in 2004 to over 1,217,000 in 2012 worldwide. In 2012, the 17% growth over the prior year in applications was the highest one year growth seen since reporting started in 2004… President Obama signed the Patent Law Treaties Implementation Act of 2012 into law in December of 2012. With the inclusion of the United States in the Hague system, it can be expected that international filings using the Hague system will continue on an upward trend. Gregoire Bisson, Director of the Hague Registry, was recently quoted stating that the Hague System will grow massively, as South Korea is scheduled to join in July, and “Japan, China, the 10 Asean countries and Russia could join in 2015.”
Unlike copyright and trademark protection, patent protection will only exist upon the issuance of a patent, which requires you to file a patent application. Simply stated, if you do not obtain a patent you have no exclusive rights. This is why inventors should never disclose their invention outside of a confidential relationship… Furthermore, despite what you may have been told or read, keeping a detailed invention notebook, even if you mail a description of the invention to yourself, provides no exclusive rights whatsoever. It is extremely important to keep detailed invention records in case you ever need to prove the particular date you invented… but keeping such records will never provide you any exclusive rights. You absolutely must file a patent application and have that application mature into an issued patent in order to obtain exclusive rights to your invention.
The Department of Commerce’s United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) today commemorated the issuance of the 700,000th design patent during a ceremony with United States Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker at Langdon Education Campus in Washington, DC. The patent for the ornamental design for a “Hand-Held Learning Apparatus” was issued to Jason Avery of Berkeley, California and is currently assigned to Emeryville, California-based LeapFrog Enterprises, Inc. (NYSE: LF). The ceremony also included the launch of a new Intellectual Property (IP) Patch developed as a joint project between the USPTO, Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital and the Intellectual Property Owners Education Foundation (IPO).
First, look at the merits of the infringement claim. They may be stronger than you think, and you can thank a 2008 ruling for that. That year, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit unanimously ruled en banc in Egyptian Goddess, Inc. v. Swisa, Inc. that a design patent is infringed if an ordinary observer would think that the accused design is substantially the same as the patented design when the two designs are compared in the context of the prior art. The court removed the “point of novelty” and “non-trivial advance” standards that previously seemed to constitute a second set of criteria to prove design patent infringement. That ruling has made life much easier for plaintiff attorneys and it helped Apple in its lawsuit against Samsung.
Although the first Patent Act was enacted in 1790, it was not until some 52 years later that the US patent laws were modified to allow for the patenting of ornamental designs. In 1842 a statute was passed to provide for, among other things, the grant of patents for any new and original: (1) design for a manufacture; (2) design for printing on fabrics; (3) bust or statue; (4) impression to be place on an article of manufacture; or (5) shape or configuration of any article of manufacture. Subsequently, in 1902, the design patent statute was amended to define the allowable subject matter simply as “any new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture.’’ This language mimicked the 1887 modifications to the Patent Act relative to infringement, and still closely represents the current law regarding patentability of designs.
It’s amazing how fast a successful product is counterfeited and how brazen the copying is. The figure above illustrates what counterfeiting looks like. Counterfeiters copy everything….except price and quality. They copy the shape, the color, and the style of the product. They copy the images straight from your Kickstarter campaign. They copy the packaging you designed and the name you developed. They cut your price anywhere from 10% to 1,000%. Their quality is at best sub-standard and at worst dangerously defective. I’ve personally purchased counterfeits that have broken on first use and I’ve read reports of counterfeits catching on fire when plugged in.
Broadening coverage by refiling cases has been a very effective strategy for Apple. The child patent, D593,087, was one of the patents they successfully enforced against Samsung at trial. The grandchild patent, D618,678, is currently being asserted against Samsung at the US International Trade Commission. To add to the complexity of this case, an unknown third party has filed a request for reexamination at the USPTO for D618,678 asserting that this design would have been obvious in light of several similar Japanese phone designs that had not been considered before. If the patent survives the reexamination challenge, then the reexamination could actually strengthen Apple’s portfolio since this patent will have been more severely tested. On the other hand if this patent has difficulty getting allowed again, then the portfolio will be weakened in the eyes of the public while Apple pursues its appeals. An ultimate final determination of invalidity could take years given the numerous levels of appeal Apple has available.
Design patents are essential in protecting the ornamental design of consumer products and their components; the intense litigation of the Apple v. Samsung lawsuits stressed the importance of design protection. The significance of design patents to the Apple v. Samsung lawsuit appears to have affected other companies’ patent strategies as well. The fifty companies on the IP Record’s list of the top 50 U.S. design patent grantees for 2012 were collectively granted greater than 150 more patents than the top 50 companies of 2011. Samsung, the top design patent recipient in both 2011 and 2012, alone accounts for almost a third of this growth—it was granted 378 design patents in 2012, exactly 50 more than in 2011. Apple, the #7 patent owner in 2011, rose one spot in 2012 and acquired 25 more patents than its total in its previous year.
Ironically, color design patents are still published in black and white. The front page of a design patent will inform you, however, that the USPTO has a color image on file. By downloading the originally filed images on the USPTO’s Public PAIR data base, you can see what the color design patent actually covers. The originally filed color images can then be downloaded from the “supplemental content” tab of the PAIR record for each patent. The use of color design patents is growing fast, particularly for computer generated images. Similarities in color schemes can outweigh differences in shapes if an accused image is more similar in color pallet to a patented design than it is to other available designs. It’s a little more effort to file color images, but the increased strength of coverage can be well worth it.
Design patents can cover one or more of the shape, color, ornamentation or texture of an object. Design patents claiming a shape typically have line drawings showing various views of the shape. Solid lines in the drawings are the claimed features of the shape. Broken lines in the drawings show what the rest of the object might look like. To determine infringement, it’s only necessary to compare the solid lines. The broken lines don’t count. Ironically, this means that the fewer solid lines in a design patent, or conversely, the more broken lines in a design patent, the stronger the patent.
Interest in design patents is increasing, in part, because they can be obtained relatively inexpensively and quickly. Dennis Crouch recently reported that from 2010-2012 the majority of design patents issue within 12-months of their filing date (see “Design Patents Are Still Relatively Quick” by Dennis Crouch, Patently-O, January 21, 2012,. In addition, most design patents issue without amendment and with little or no file wrapper estoppel, potentially leading to a “cleaner” patent with potentially fewer issues to be raised in litigation that could negatively affect the scope of the patent. The number of design patent filings has increased approximately 20% since 2009 (Robert Olszewski, “State of the Technology Center,” USPTO Design Day 2013), and, with this increase it is reasonable to expect an increase in design patent enforcement