While much attention has been given to the recent, significant changes in U.S. patent law arising from the America Invents Act (“AIA”), lesser attention has been given to patent law changes brought about by further congressional action. Specifically, the Patent Law Treaties Implementation Act (“PLTIA”) enacted December 18, 2012, implements the Geneva Act of the Hague Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Industrial Designs. In making several important changes to U.S. design patent law, implementation of the Geneva Act importantly provides U.S. design patent applicants with increased flexibility and, like the AIA, further harmonizes U.S. patent laws with international norms.
Nothing has fundamentally changed about the nature of design patents. The first US design patent was granted in 1842. The Statue of Liberty, Coke bottle, Volkswagen Beatle, Stealth Bomber and Star Wars’ Yoda are all protected by design patents. Design patents have long played an important role in consumer electronics, automotive, apparel, jewelry, packaging and other industries. But industrial design is becoming increasingly important, Mr. Kappos explains, because the increasing functionality of man-made devices brings with it increasing complexity, so innovative companies are constantly seeking superior designs, a convergence of form and function that helps make the complex simple and sets their companies apart; and protecting such designs is critical.
The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) publishes a yearly report of the worldwide intellectual property filings. World Intellectual Property Indicators 2012 estimates draw from approximately 133 Patent offices, and include direct national and regional applications and those received through the Hague system of international registration.
This week Apple had a total of 34 patents issued, including four design patents and a number of patents focusing on improvements to user interfaces on various Apple devices, such as a design patent on an icon (see bottom). Other patents obtained by Apple protect a new method of removing blemishes while still maintaining image quality and an illuminable laptop latch.
A patent is a proprietary right granted by the United States federal government to an inventor who files a patent application with the United States Patent Office. Therefore, unlike copyright and trademark protection, patent protection will only exist upon the issuance of a patent, which requires you to file a patent application. 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.
BB&B initially moved to dismiss Hall’s complaint in accordance with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) – failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted. The district court granted the dismissal of the complaint. In part, the district court stated that Hall’s complaint failed to contain “any allegations to show what aspects of the Tote Towel merit design patent protection, or how each Defendant has infringed the protected patent claim.” Order at 15-16. The CAFC cited Phonometrics, Inc. v. Hospitality Franchise Systems, Inc. as precedent for the requirements of patent infringement pleading. The five elements include (i) to allege ownership of the patent, (ii) name each defendant, (iii) cite the patent that is allegedly infringed, (iv) state the means by which the defendant allegedly infringes, and (v) point to the sections of the patent law invoked. The CAFC stated that Mr. Hall had presented a lengthy complaint outlining the merits of his case and, therefore, had satisfied the standards set forth in Phonometrics.
On Wednesday, December 5, 2012, the House of Representatives passed two bills that are now await President Obama’s signature. The bill — S. 3486— implements both the Patent Law Treaty (PLT) and the Hague Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Industrial Designs. The U.S. Senate previously passed the same bill in the same form on September 22, 2012. Thus, the remaking of U.S. patent law and patent practice continues, and we will see more rulemaking coming from the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
The functionality issue, as it relates to design patent claim scope, mysteriously vanished from the district court’s application of design patent law between the December 2011 issuance of the Order denying preliminary injunction and the August 2012 issuance of the Final Jury Instructions. By failing to expressly identify non-ornamental (functional) features of Apple’s design patents and instruct the jury that such features were not to be considered in its infringement analysis, the district court materially, and perhaps fatally, prejudiced Samsung’s non-infringement defenses. The district court unleashed a “free range jury” that was unconstrained in its ability to forage for patentable subject matter that could be used to evaluate infringement among the functional features disclosed in Apple’s design patents.
The WIPO Assemblies, which met from October 1-9, 2012, took stock of the Organization’s substantive work over the last year, and provided direction for the future work program. At the closing of the Assemblies, WIPO Director General Francis Gurry welcomed the “extremely constructive engagement of member states” in the work of the Organization as demonstrated in the decisions taken by the Assemblies. He underlined the progress made by member states in setting timetables for concluding negotiations on international instruments on access to copyrighted work by the visually impaired, design law and intellectual property and genetic resources, traditional knowledge and folklore.
The relative paucity of design patent jurisprudence regarding the legal remedy of damages and the equitable remedy of an accounting for the infringer’s profits, makes clear that while an award of damages for patent infringement may be enhanced under 35 U.S.C. § 284 for willful infringement, and award of profits under 35 U.S.C. § 289, may not be enhanced under Section 284. While this distinction may appear important to one who wishes to obtain an enhancement of the damages award for willful infringement, the jury verdict form in Apple v. Samsung leaves one clueless as to whether the monetary award for infringement of 18 Samsung devices was an award of damages, an award of profits, or some combination of the two.
Implementation of the Hague Treaty will also bring some welcome changes to U.S. patent law — for example, the term of design patents will extend to 15 rather than 14 years from the patent’s issue date. The exception to this will be international applications filed under the Hague Treaty, which will have a 15-year term, but that term will run from the filing date, rather than the issue date. This change will make the term more like that of utility patents, where prosecution delays count against the term of a patent stemming from an International application.
Where exactly does the right to have a repaired vehicle look exactly like a new vehicle come from? I don’t find that in the Constitution either, but once again patents are right there in Article I, Section 8, Clause 8. For crying out loud it isn’t even like these folks don’t have the ability to repair their cars to brand new. They can if they use OEM parts. The trouble is that the insurance industry doesn’t want to pay and would prefer to use cheap, inferior parts rather than OEM parts. So stiffing innovators is a right of consumers and insurance companies and the fact that the casualties will almost certainly be American jobs is just another inconvenient truth.
As the chart below demonstrates, design patent applications have been on the rise since 1975, but still in fiscal year 2011 there were just over 30,000 design patent applications filed. That strikes me as an extraordinarily low number given the number of inventions that could potentially receive a design patent. Design patents must be considered by all inventors because of the backlog at the United States Patent and Trademark Office. It can take 3 or more years, sometimes substantially longer, to obtain a patent. By contrast a design patent can in many instances be awarded in as few as 6 to 8 months. Some patent is better than no patent, so inventors with a gadget or device should ordinarily be seeking design patents as well as utility patents for that reason alone.
Intellectual property law is premised on incentivizing innovative and creative activities by providing limited property rights for the fruits of such activities in order to increase the storehouse of creative and innovative knowledge for the betterment of society. Excessive overlapping protection undermines the careful balance individually developed under each body of intellectual property law. Expansion of the subject matter protected under either patent, copyright, or trademark law should only occur if it does not undermine the careful balances struck under each of the other bodies of intellectual property law. Being mindful of the balance between protection and public interest can prevent unintended over-protection of intellectual property that would work to skew the balance in favor of rights to creators and innovators at the expense of the public.
Have you ever heard of a design patent application that remained pending for nearly 11 years? The design patent application was originally filed on January 4, 2000, and the design patent was issued earlier today as U.S. Design Patent No. D629,412. The long and tortured path to obtain the design patent on a drop down menu took 10 years and 50 weeks! Almost unbelievable. Getting this one patent application off the books should meaningfully help the averages, which is a sad commentary in and of itself.