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Design patent disputes between large companies

A recognizable product is one key to its success, but in today’s era of free information you must also protect your product’s recognizability. A design patent is a useful legal tool to protect inventions but in the wrong hands, it can be used to infringe on your rights as patent owner.

What is a design patent?

A design patent is different from the more common utility patent in that it covers only a product’s appearance. Every industry can use this patent, from medical technology to fashion. Design patents are attractive because you can obtain one quicker and at a lower cost than a utility patent. You can also have several design patents covering individual facets of the same product.

As in protecting a utility patent, you could win a lawsuit against a company for infringing on your patent. For a design to be patentable, it must do the following:

  • Be nonobvious: An object’s appearance cannot be obvious to an industry worker of ordinary skill.
  • Be different: A new design must not copy or try to patent a product or idea in the industry that is already available to the public (“public art”).

In 2018, two high-profile cases in fashion and technology culminated in lawsuits that highlight the difficulties of creating competitive products in an oversaturated market.

Decker vs R&J

Deckers Outdoor Corporations, the creators of the popular UGG boots, challenged Romeo and Juliette over the R&J “Bearclaw” boot for a second time. The competitor lost two lawsuits against Deckers for infringing on the UGG design.

R&J claimed UGG was an invalid patent but could not prove to a jury that the design was “obvious” before its success. Since the Bearclaw boot came to market significantly after the UGG boot, the court determined that its designers infringed upon Deckers’ design. R&J has since appealed.

Apple vs Samsung vs Apple

These mega corporations have been suing each other over smartphone technology designs for seven years. In 2014, Apple was awarded the total profits of Samsung’s smartphones for copyright infringement. Samsung appealed, arguing that the amount of total profits awarded were too high and did not correspond to the value of the infringed design patent, but to all the technological components within the phone.

They lost but appealed again to the Supreme Court on the specific question of whether one component of design could be argued in a multi-component product. The Supreme Court decided unanimously that it could. This resulted in a wave of appeals and re-appeals. In 2017, the Supreme Court refused Samsung’s final appeal, leaving the award to Apple.

A design patent can provide a legal basis from which you can protect your product and your business. A legal professional can always provide the best advice for your situation, and ensure your receive maximum compensation if someone infringes on your design.

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