The “State” of Embodiments in Design Patents

U.S. Patent No.  D824219 issued on July 31, 2018 on a “Coaster State Bottle Opener.”  This patent is interesting because it has 52 embodiments that are depicted in 260 Figures, featuring every state on its own coaster/bottle opener.

The multiple embodiments in U.S. Patent No. D824219
allow you to assemble a lovely coast collection featuring Harness, Dickey locations!

Applicants are of course entitled to present as many embodiments as they wish in a design patent application.  MPEP 1504.05 states that “[m]ore than one embodiment of a design may be protected by a single claim. However, such embodiments may be presented only if they involve a single inventive concept according to the obviousness-type double patenting practice for designs.”  If the embodiments do not involve a single inventive concept, the the Office will issue a restriction requirement, which can present a risk for the applicant, and discussed below.  The MPEP sets out a two part test for determining whether embodiments involve a single inventive concept:

(A) the embodiments must have overall appearances with basically the same design characteristics; and (B) the differences between the embodiments must be insufficient to patentably distinguish one design from the other.

MPEP 1504.05

The presentation of multiple embodiments has the effect of broadening the scope of the claim, because the single design patent claim only covers the elements common to all of the embodiments. This is great from an infringement standpoint, but it also makes the design patent more vulnerable to a validity attack.

As mentioned above, restriction requirements can present difficulties for design patent applicants.  If the applicant does not file a divisional application for each restricted embodiment, the applicant could be dedicating the non-pursued embodiments to the the public.  This was the case in  Pacific Coast Marine Windshields Ltd. v. Malibu Boats, LLC, (Fed. Cir. 2014), where the Federal Circuit held that when subject matter is surrendered during prosecution of a design patent (such as by acceding to a restriction requirement), prosecution history estoppel prevents the patentee from “recapturing in an infringement action the very subject matter surrendered as a condition of receiving the patent.” e claimed invention. 


In Pacific Coast Marine, during prosecution of the patent in suit (D689782) the Examiner identified five separate embodiments, but the applicant protected only two, leaving the other three embodiments unprotected.

Just because one can include multiple embodiments in a design application does not mean it is always a good idea.  Thought should be given to whether the same protection can be achieved through a single embodiment with unimportant details shown in dashed lines (and thus excluded from the scope of the claims), and/or whether multiple applications would would provide better protection (albeit at a higher cost).  Multiple embodiments can complicate both validity and infringement determinations.

If the Drawing is Sufficient to Determine Infringement, it Complies with 35 USC §112

In In Re Maatita, [2017-2037] (August 20, 2018), the Federal Circuit reversed the PTAB affirmance of the rejection of Maatita’s design patent application on the design of an athletic shoe bottom.

The Examiner rejected Maatita’s application containing a single two-dimensional plan-view drawing to disclose a shoe bottom design and left the design open to multiple interpretations regarding the depth and contour of the claimed elements. and indefinite under 35 U.S.C. § 112, and the PTAB affirmed.

The Examiner hypothesized four different designs, each of which were patentably distinct and therefore could not be covered by a single claim. Thus, the Examiner concluded that Maatita’s single claim was indefinite and not enabled, as one would not know which of the many possible distinct embodiments of the claim is applicant’s
in order to make and use applicant’s design.  The Board concluded that because the single view does not adequately reveal the relative depths and three dimensionality between the surfaces provided, the Specification does not reveal enough detail to enable the claimed shoe bottom, under 35 U.S.C. § 112, first paragraph, and that the same lack of clarity and detail also makes the scope of the claim indefinite under 35 U.S.C. § 112, second paragraph.

The Federal Circuit noted that because patent claims are limited to what is shown in the application drawings, there is often little difference in the design patent context between the concepts of definiteness (whether the scope of the claim is clear with reasonable certainty) and enablement (whether the specification sufficiently describes the design to
enable an average designer to make the design).  The Federal Circuit said that a visual disclosure may be inadequate—and its associated claim indefinite—if it includes multiple, internally inconsistent drawings.  However errors and inconsistencies between drawings do not merit a § 112 rejection, however, if they do not preclude the overall understanding of the drawing as a whole.  It is also possible for a disclosure to be inadequate when there are inconsistencies between the visual disclosure and the claim language.  However, the Federal Circuit said the present case does not involve inconsistencies in the drawings, or inconsistencies between the drawings and the verbal description, but rather a single representation of a design that is alleged to be of uncertain scope.  The Federal Circuit said the question was whether the disclosure sufficiently describes the design.

The purpose of § 112’s definiteness requirement, then, is to ensure that the disclosure is clear enough to give potential competitors (who are skilled in the art) notice of what design is claimed—and therefore what would infringe.  With this purpose in mind, it is clear that the standard for indefiniteness is connected to the standard for infringement.  Given that the purpose of indefiniteness is to give notice of what
would infringe, we believe that in the design patent context, one skilled in the art would assess indefiniteness from the perspective of an ordinary observer. Thus, a
design patent is indefinite under § 112 if one skilled in the art, viewing the design as would an ordinary observer, would not understand the scope of the design with reasonable certainty based on the claim and visual disclosure.  So long as the scope of the invention is clear with reasonable certainty to an ordinary observer, a design patent
can disclose multiple embodiments within its single claim and can use multiple drawings to do so.

The fact that shoe bottoms can have three-dimensional aspects does not change the fact that their ornamental design is capable of being disclosed and judged from a
two-dimensional, plan- or planar-view perspective—and that Maatita’s two-dimensional drawing clearly demonstrates the perspective from which the shoe bottom should
be viewed. A potential infringer is not left in doubt as to how to determine infringement. In this case, Maatita’s decision not to disclose all possible depth choices would
not preclude an ordinary observer from understanding the claimed design, since the design is capable of being understood from the two-dimensional, plan- or planar-view
perspective shown in the drawing.

Because a designer of ordinary skill in the art, judging Maatita’s design as would an ordinary observer, could make comparisons for infringement purposes based on the
provided, two-dimensional depiction, Maatita’s claim meets the enablement and definiteness requirements of § 112. The Federal Circuit reversed the decision of the Board.

It seems that the Federal Circuit is exempting design patent inventors from their part of the quid pro quo for protection — a complete disclosure of the invention.  Will the Supreme Court bother with another design patent case?

Supreme Court Vacates $399M Design Patent Damage Award, Finding an Article of Manufacture for Damage Purposes is Not Necessarily the Entire Product Sold

In Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. v. Apple Inc., 580 U.S. ____ (2016), the Supreme Court reversed the award of $399,000,000 for infringement of Apple’s design patents  covering the iPhone (U.S. Patent Nos. D618677, D593087, and D604305).

35 USC §289 sets for a special damage remedy for design patents:

Whoever during the term of a patent for a design, without license of the owner, (1) applies the patented design, or any colorable imitation thereof, to any article of manufacture for the purpose of sale, or (2) sells or exposes for sale any article of manufacture to which such design or colorable imitation has been applied shall be liable to the owner to the extent of his total profit, but not less than $250, recoverable in any United States district court having jurisdiction of the parties.

The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit identified the entire Samsung phone as the “article of manufacture” for purposes of calculating §289 damages because consumers could not separately purchase components of the smart phone.  The Supreme Court, after looking up article of manufacture in the dictionary, concluded that an article of manufacture is broad enough to encompass both a product sold to a consumer, as well as  a component of that product.

Finding that the Federal Circuit’s narrower reading of article of manufacture cannot be squared with the text of §289, the Supreme Court reversed the award, and remanded for determination of whether the relevant article of manufacture is the smartphone, or a particular component of the smartphone.

On remand, it is entirely possible that $399 million damage award could be affirmed, if it is determined that the article of manufacture covered is the Samsung smart phone, and not simply some part of the smart phone.  U.S. Patent Nos. D618677 and D593087 disclose and claim an “electronic device” — which presumably covers at least some of the “innards” of the phone,

d593087d618677

and U.S. Patent No. D604305 discloses and claims a “graphical user interface for a display screen or portion thereof” — which likewise would include at least some of the “innards” of the phone for generating the images on the display:

d604305

 

How these patents are treated on remand will be instructive on how design patents should be drafted going forward.  There may be an advantage in drafting the application so that the “article of manufacture” is a comprehensive (and profitable) as possible.

It is Error to Ignore Functional Structures Entirely in a Design Patent Construction

In Sport Dimension, Inc. v. The Coleman Company, [2015-1553] (April 19. 2016) the Federal Circuit vacated the stipulated judgment of non-infringement of U.S. Patent  No. D623,714 on a personal flotation device, and remanded for further proceedings consistent with the correct claim construction.

The district court adopted Sport Dimension’s proposed claim construction:

The ornamental design for a personal flotation device, as shown and described in Figures 1–8, except the left and right armband, and the side torso tapering, which are functional and not ornamental.

This construction eliminates several features of Coleman’s claimed design, specifically the armbands and the side torso tapering.  The Federal Circuit observed that “[w]ords cannot easily describe ornamental designs.” The Federal Circuit said that a design patent’s claim is thus often better represented by illustrations than a written claim construction, and that a detailed verbal claim constructions increases “the risk of placing undue emphasis on particular features of the design and the risk that a finder of fact will focus on each individual described feature in the verbal description rather than on the design as a whole.

However the Federal Circuit has often “blessed “claim constructions that helped the fact finder distinguish between those features of the claimed design that are ornamental and those that are purely functional, because where a design contains both functional and nonfunctional elements, the scope of the claim must be construed in order to identify the non-functional aspects of the design as shown in the patent.

In OddzOn, Richardson, and Ethicon, the Federal Circuit construed design patent claims so as to assist a finder of fact in distinguishing between functional and ornamental features, but in no case did it entirely eliminate a structural element from the claimed ornamental design, even though that element also served a functional purpose.  Even though the Federal Circuit agreed that certain elements of the design serve a useful purpose, it rejected the district court’s ultimate claim construction because it eliminated the functions structures from the claim entirely.

The Federal Circuit said that because of the design’s many functional elements and its minimal ornamentation, the overall claim scope of the claim is accordingly narrow.  However the Federal Circuit offered no further guidance on the proper construction.

 

 

An Animated Review of Design Patents

Design patents protect the appearance of articles of manufacture, and this includes articles of manufacture whose appearance changes over time.  In particular, animated displays on computers and other electronic devices can be protected with a design patent.  The drawings of are a series of still images of the animated design, showing the progression, somewhat like a “flip book.”  Thus, U.S. Patent No. D698,363 protects a spinning design by showing for sequential images:

Animation1

 

The patent explains:

Animation2

 

 

 

 

U.S. Patent No. D706,806 shows another on-screen animation in two figures:

Animation5

 

 

 

 

The patent explains:

Animation6

U.S. Patent No. D612,861 shows an animated screen transition over seven images, four of which are shown below:

Animation3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The patent describes the figures:

Animation4

 

Iconography

It is pretty well known that icons can be protected with design patents, however we continue to adhere to the fiction that it is not the icon we are protecting, but the substrate decorated with the icon that we are protection.  U.S. Patent No. D697,530 illustrates one technique for protecting an icon that could appear on both a computer display and a printed display:

icon

 

The icon on the computer screen is simply shown with a dashed border separating the icon from the rest of the screen, which is not depicted.  The icon on the printed matter is shown within its own border, and with a slightly different dashed border separating the icon form the rest of the printed material on which it is depicted.

If the Slipper Fits . . .

In High Point Design LLC v. Meijer, Inc., [2014-1464], the Federal Circuit in a non-precedential, but still instructive decision, reversed summary judgment of anticipation but affirmed summary judgment of non-infringement of U.S. Patent No. D598183 on a Slipper.

In reversing the district court’s finding of anticipation, the Federal Circuit said that “Design patent anticipation requires a showing that a single prior art reference is ‘identical in all material respects’ to the claimed design.”  View the evidence in the light most favorable to the patent owner, the Federal Circuit found that a reasonable jury could have found that there was not clear and convincing evidence of anticipation.

The Federal Circuit criticized the distraction court for not performing a side-by-side comparison, but instead concluding that the claimed design and the prior art share the same characteristics.  The Federal Circuit noted that the district court’s analysis was “on too high a level of abstraction,” failing to focus on the distinctive visual appearance of the prior art and the claimed design.  The detail of the analysis that the Federal Circuit undertook was instructive:

High_Point_1

The Federal Circuit also pointed to differences in the soles of the slippers, resurrecting the infamous Contessa Food Prods., Inc. v. Conagra, Inc., shrimp platter case.

High_Point_2

While the Federal Circuit reversed the district court’s summary judgment of anticipation, it affirmed the district court’s judgment of non-infringement with a similarly detailed comparison between the accused product and the patent.

The district court conducted a side-by-side comparison between the claimed design and the accused slippers, and concluded that the accused slipper “evokes a soft, gentle image” while the patented design “appears robust and durable.”  The Federal Circuit agreed, finding that “the patented and accused designs bring to mind different impressions.”  The Federal Circuit characterized the accused design as “soft and formless” while the patent design appeared “structured and formed.”

High_Point_3

Differences in the soles of the designs also factored into the determination.

The Federal Circuit recognized that both designs essentially consist of a slipper with a fuzzy portion extending upward out of the foot opening, but said that such high-level similarities, are not sufficient to demonstrate infringement.

Although not precedential, the opinion is instructive on how to compare designs for purpose of anticipation and for purposes of infringement.

No Mulligan for Plaintiff; Design Patent Case Decided on the Pleadings

In Young v. Ann Stone, Inc., 1:13-cv-04920 (N.D. Ill. 2014) the district court granted judgment on the pleadings that defendant’s design for a golf practice target:

DP1

does not infringe U.S. Patent No. D442,661:

DP2

“because the two devices are so obviously dissimilar as to warrant a finding of non-infringement as a matter of law”.

In the words of the court, “[o]ne of the most obvious differences between the products is that top of the lower disk on defendant’s product is noticeably inclined, directing the ball upward to the center where it is held in place. Plaintiff’s design features a flat lower base with what appears to be a washer around the center column that holds the ball. This difference is readily apparent upon even a casual view of the two products.”  The court said that the spaced discs were functional and could not serve as the basis for a determination that its product infringes on the patented design, noting that “all of the prior art shares this feature” and finding that it is “the unique mechanisms among the products that contribute to the overall differences in appearance”.  In the context of the prior art such as U.S. Patent Nos. 1,297,055 and 2,899,207 , the district court’s decision makes even more sense:

DP3DP4

Of note to design practitioners, is that the defendant’s arguments about the cap on the flag pole and the placement of the flag contributed to court’s finding that the designs were different:

Defendant argues that the rounded cap on plaintiff’s flagpole is substantially different from the tapered insert on defendant’s flagpole. The flag of the alleged infringer’s product also covers the top of the flagpole, while the suggested flag on the patented product (which is not a part of the patented design) appears to attach to the pole well below the cap in question, leaving the top of the flagpole visible. When the products are viewed as a whole, this difference adds to the impression that the two products are plainly dissimilar.

Most of the art of design patent drafting is deciding what to show and what not to show, and of what is shown, what is in solid and what is in dashed lines.  The court’s discussion of such details is a reminder to the careful prosecutor to pay attention.