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Design Patent Prior Art Must Be From Same or Analogous Field as Claimed Article of Manufacture

Finding that the Patent Trial & Appeal Board (Board) applied an erroneous interpretation of claim scope, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed a Board decision upholding an examiner’s rejection of a lip implant design patent as anticipated by a non-analogous art tool. In re: SurgiSil, Case No. 20-1940 (Fed. Cir. Oct. 4, 2021) (Moore, C.J.)

SurgiSil filed a design application for a lip implant shaped like a generally cylindrical rod that tapered to a point at each end. The examiner rejected the patent as anticipated by a “stump,” an art tool of similar, almost identical, shape used for smoothing and blending areas of pastel or charcoal. SurgiSil appealed the rejection to the Board. The Board affirmed the rejection, finding that the differences in the shapes of SurgiSil’s lip implant and the art tool were minor. The Board rejected SurgiSil’s argument that the two articles of manufacture were “very different,” reasoning that it is irrelevant whether a prior art reference is analogous for anticipation purposes. SurgiSil appealed.

Reviewing the Board’s legal conclusions de novo, the Federal Circuit found that the Board erred as a matter of law. Citing 35 U.S.C. § 171(a) and the 1871 Supreme Court decision in Gorham Co. v. White, the Court explained that a design patent claim does not cover the design in the abstract, and that it is limited to the particular article of manufacture identified in the claim. The Court concluded that the claimed design was limited to a lip implant, did not cover other articles of manufacture and that the Board’s decision therefore rested on an erroneous interpretation of the claim’s scope.




Objective Indicia of Nonobviousness for Design Patents: Same Nexus Requirement as Utility Patents

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed two decisions by the Patent Trial & Appeal Board (Board), finding that a soup company and soup dispenser manufacturing company failed to prove the unpatentability of two design patents covering can dispensers. The Court also concluded that the analysis for objective indicia of nonobviousness for utility patents also applies to design patents. Campbell Soup Co. v. Gamon Plus, Inc., Case Nos. 20-2344, 21-1019 (Fed. Cir. Aug. 19, 2021) (Moore, J.)

Gamon Plus owns two design patents directed to “the ornamental design for a gravity feed dispenser display,” or a can dispenser. Gamon’s commercialized embodiment is called the iQ Maximizer gravity feed dispenser. For nearly a decade, Gamon sold tens of millions of dollars’ worth of its iQ Maximizer to Campbell Soup. Campbell attributed increased soup sales in part to the iQ Maximizer in its 10-K Securities and Exchange Commission reports (an industry publication) and in an internal marketing study. Campbell later began purchasing similar gravity feed dispensers from Trinity Manufacturing.

Gamon sued Campbell and Trinity for design patent infringement. Campbell and Trinity then petitioned for inter partes review (IPR) of Gamon’s patents. In its final written decisions, the Board found that Campbell and Trinity failed to prove unpatentability because the prior art was not similar enough to the claimed designs to constitute a proper primary reference. Trinity (Campbell) appealed.

In that appeal, the Federal Circuit disagreed, vacated and remanded. On remand, the Board again held that Campbell and Trinity failed to prove unpatentability, finding that the claimed designs would not have been obvious over the prior art. The Board reasoned that although the prior art alone had the same overall visual appearance as the claimed designs, there existed objective indicia of nonobviousness, including Gamon’s commercial success in selling iQ Maximizers to Campbell, Campbell’s praise of—and commercial success in—using the iQ Maximizer and Trinity’s copying of the iQ Maximizer. The Board presumed a nexus between those objective indicia evidences and the claimed designs because it found the iQ Maximizer to be coextensive with the claims, meaning that the product was essentially the disclosed invention with unclaimed features being insignificant. The Board also found that Gamon established such a nexus regardless of the presumption. Campbell and Trinity again appealed.

Again the Federal Circuit reversed, concluding that the claimed designs would have been obvious over the prior art. In doing so, the Court confirmed the Board’s finding that the prior art and the claimed designs shared the same overall visual appearance (which Gamon did not challenge) but found that the Board’s presumption of nexus and finding of a nexus-in-fact between the claimed designs and the evidence of commercial success and praise were not supported by substantial evidence. As for the presumption, the Court considered whether the iQ Maximizer was coextensive with the claimed invention. Nexus is presumed if the objective indicia evidence is tied to a specific product that is “coextensive” with the claimed invention. The Board recognized that the claimed portions of [...]

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No Summary Judgment Where Primary Reference Might Not Be “Basically the Same” as Asserted Design Patent

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit found that the district court improperly resolved a genuine dispute of material fact with respect to summary judgment of invalidity for design patent obviousness because a reasonable fact finder could have concluded that the primary prior art reference did not create “basically the same” visual impression as the asserted designed patent. Spigen Korea Co., Ltd. v. Ultraproof Inc. et al., Case Nos. 19-1435; -1717 (Fed. Cir. Apr. 17, 2020) (Reyna, J.) (Lourie, J., dissented without opinion).

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PTO Proposes Standardization of the Patent Term Adjustment Statement Regarding Information Disclosure Statements

The US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) announced on July 12, 2022, that it intends to revise the rules pertaining to patent term adjustment to require that the patent term adjustment statement regarding information disclosure statements (IDS) be submitted on a PTO form. The PTO believes that the use of the form will streamline prosecution and be more accurate and efficient by eliminating the need for a manual review of the patent term adjustment statement.

The regulations in 37 CFR 1.704(c)(1) through (14) establish the circumstances that constitute an applicant’s failure to engage in reasonable efforts to conclude processing or examination of an application and the resulting reduction of any patent term adjustment. 37 CFR 1.704(d)(1) also provides a safe harbor for filing IDS. Filing only an IDS in compliance with §§ 1.97 and 1.98 or a request for continued examination with only a compliant IDS is not considered a failure to engage in reasonable efforts to conclude prosecution (processing or examination) of the application under 37 CFR 1.704(c)(6), (8), (9) or (10) if it is accompanied by the required statement. The statement required to accompany the paper or request for continued examination must affirm that each item of information contained in the IDS meets one of the following requirements:

  • It was first cited in any communication from a patent office in a counterpart foreign or international application or from the PTO, and this communication was not received by any individual designated in § 1.56(c) more than 30 days prior to the filing of the IDS.
  • It is a communication that was issued by a patent office in a counterpart foreign or international application or by the PTO, and this communication was not received by any individual designated in § 1.56(c) more than 30 days prior to the filing of the IDS.

The PTO proposes adding new paragraph (d)(3) to 37 CFR 1.704(d), which requires filers to submit the patent term adjustment statement under 37 CFR 1.704(d)(1) on a form PTO/SB/133 to derive the safe harbor benefit under 37 CFR 1.704(d). Form PTO/SB/133 includes the required statement described above. Filers who submit a 37 CFR 1.704(d)(1) patent term adjustment statement without using the form PTO/SB/133 and filers who submit the form PTO/SB/133 with any modification to the patent term adjustment statement will not receive the benefit of the safe harbor under 37 CFR 1.704(d). Under such circumstances, the IDS or the request for continued examination, with no submission other than an IDS, will be treated as unaccompanied by a patent term adjustment statement under 37 CFR 1.704(d)(1).

Comments on the proposed rule must be received by September 12, 2022, to ensure consideration.




It’s Not in the Bag: TTAB Refuses to Register Generic Handbag Design

Ending a hard-fought three-year campaign to secure registration of a popular handbag, the US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) Trademark Trial & Appeal Board designated as precedential its decision refusing registration of the product configuration mark, deeming it a generic configuration not eligible for trademark registration. The Board also concluded that even if the bag design had not been generic, the applicant failed to make a necessary showing that the design of the bag had acquired distinctiveness. In re Jasmin Larian, LLC, Serial No. 87522459 (TTAB, Jan. 19, 2022; redesignated Mar. 29, 2022) (Cataldo, Lynch, Allard, ATJ).

Fashion brand CULT GAIA’s “ARK” handbag is composed of bamboo strips creating a creating a see-through “sunburst design,” and has been carried by celebrities such as Beyoncé and Jessica Alba. The brand’s founder and CEO Jasmin Larian sought registration on the Principal Register of the following mark for a three-dimensional handbag:

After several years of examination, the examining attorney ultimately issued a final refusal on the ground that the proposed configuration was a generic configuration, or alternatively, was a nondistinctive product design that had not acquired distinctiveness. Larian appealed to the Board.

Acknowledging the commercial success of the CULT GAIA ARK bag, the Board explained that the issue before it was whether the proposed mark was generic (i.e., a common handbag design), or, alternatively, whether the bag constituted a nondistinctive product design that had acquired distinctiveness. The Board tackled both questions, since similar evidence was relevant to both inquiries.

A trademark must be distinctive to be eligible for registration. Such distinctiveness is measured on a spectrum, where one side of the spectrum is made up of generic terms or generic designs (i.e., non-distinctive and non-protectable as trademarks) and the other side is made up of registrable trademarks that are arbitrary or fanciful. Suggestive trademarks fall somewhere in the middle. In the context of product designs, genericness may be found where the design is so common in the industry that the design cannot be said to identify a particular source of the product. Generic product designs fail to function as a trademark. Genericness is assessed by determining the genus of the goods or services at issue, then determining whether the consuming public primarily regards the design sought to be registered as a category or type of trade dress for the genus of goods or services. For the ARK bag, the applicant and the examining attorney agreed that “handbags” was the genus of the goods at issue. The relevant consuming public was found to consist of ordinary consumers who purchase handbags.

The Board reviewed the evidence of record to assess the significance of the bag design to ordinary consumers, i.e., whether they viewed the configuration of the bag as a source-identifying trademark or merely as a common handbag design. The Board detailed eight different categories of evidence, which, according to the Board, showed that “in the decades leading up to and the years immediately preceding [...]

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Federal Circuit Won’t Rescue Parachute Patent

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a Patent Trial & Appeal Board (Board) decision that claims to a ballistic parachute were obvious over the prior art based on knowledge attributable to artisans and denying the patentee’s motion to substitute proposed amended claims, finding that they lacked written description. Fleming v. Cirrus Design Corp., Case No. 21-1561 (Fed. Cir. Mar. 10, 2022) (Lourie, Hughes, Stoll, JJ.)

Cirrus Design filed a petition for inter partes review on certain claims of Fleming’s patent related to ballistic parachute systems on an aircraft. The challenged claims relate to an autopilot system that increases the aircraft’s pitch, reduces the aircraft’s roll or changes the aircraft’s altitude when a ballistic parachute deployment request is made. Fleming moved to amend some of the challenged claims, effectively cancelling those claims. In its final written decision, the Board found the remaining original claims obvious over the prior art and found that the amended claims lacked written description and were indefinite. Fleming appealed both the obviousness determination and the denial of the motion to amend.

Fleming argued that the Board’s obviousness determination was incorrect because the prior art did not disclose the commands to the autopilot to alter the aircraft’s pitch, roll or altitude. The Board acknowledged that neither of the primary prior references included the claimed commands upon the receipt of a deployment request, but nevertheless, concluded that a person of ordinary skill in the art would have had the motivation to combine the prior art disclosures to arrive at the claimed invention. The Federal Circuit concluded that the Board’s findings were supported by substantial evidence, citing to the Supreme Court’s 2007 KSR decision for the proposition that it is appropriate to consider a person of ordinary skill in the art’s knowledge, creativity and common sense, so long as they do not replace reasoned analysis and evidentiary support. Here the Court noted with approval the Board’s finding that aircraft autopilots are programmable and can perform flight maneuvers and deploy a parachute. The Court also noted that an artisan would have understood that certain maneuvers, such as stabilizing at an appropriate altitude, should be performed prior to deploying a whole-aircraft parachute. The Board concluded that a person of ordinary skill in the art would be motivated to reprogram the autopilot to take Fleming’s proposed actions prior to releasing the parachute to improve safety outcomes.

Fleming also appealed the Board’s rejection of his argument that the prior art taught away from claimed invention because a person of ordinary skill in the art would deem the combination unsafe. He argued that the prior art taught that autopilot systems should not be used in the sort of emergency situations that would lead to the deployment of a ballistic parachute. The Board rejected that argument, and the Federal Circuit found that the substantial evidence supported the Board’s determination that the prior art did not teach that a person of ordinary skill in the art would never use an autopilot system during [...]

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California, I’m Coming Home: Transfer to Venue Where Products Were Designed Is Appropriate

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit denied a patent owner’s petition for writ of mandamus, finding that the district court properly transferred a case from the Eastern District of Virginia to the Northern District of California because the center of the alleged infringing activities occurred in California. In re: SunStone Information Defense, Inc., Case No. 2022-121 (Fed. Cir. Feb. 11, 2022) (Moore, Dyk, Stoll, JJ). (non-precedential).

SunStone filed a patent infringement suit against F5 Networks and one of its customers in the Eastern District of Virginia. F5 Networks moved to transfer the case to the Northern District of California pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), arguing that at the time of filing, SunStone was headquartered in Northern California, and the F5 Networks subsidiary that designed and developed the accused products was also located in the area. F5 Networks also noted that essentially all of the relevant documents and knowledgeable employees were in Northern California.

The district court granted F5 Networks’ motion, explaining that F5 Networks satisfied its burden of proving that transfer was warranted based on convenience of the parties and witnesses and because California was the “center of the alleged infringing activities.” The district court also noted that neither party disputed that the action “might have been brought” in the Northern District of California. SunStone petitioned for writ of mandamus.

The Federal Circuit applied the law of the regional circuit (the Fourth Circuit), which requires finding a clear abuse of discretion in order to overturn a district court’s transfer decision. The Court found that SunStone failed to meet this “stringent standard.” The Court also found that SunStone’s choice of forum was not entitled to significant weight because it was not SunStone’s home forum and had no specific connection to the infringement claims. The Court therefore denied SunStone’s petition.

Practice Note: This is another decision in a long line of recent Federal Circuit rulings relating to venue, which are summarized in an article related to a string of transfer denials in the Western District of Texas and our 2022 IP Outlook Report: The Developments Shaping Patent Law.




Judge Albright Issues Updated Standing Order for Patent Cases

On October 8, 2021, Judge Alan Albright of the US District Court for the Western District of Texas issued a new standing order governing proceedings for patent cases, which the Court designated as version 3.5 following previous updates in February and June 2021. The Western District of Texas manages more patent cases than any other district court in the United States.

The new order contains many refinements to Judge Albright’s procedures:

  • Recharacterizes the “default” schedule to be an “exemplary” schedule that the parties’ proposed schedule is expected to track in “most cases” and adds a date eight weeks prior to trial when the parties must email the court clerk to confirm the pretrial and trial dates
  • Requires parties with discovery disputes to summarize their respective positions to the court’s clerk when calling to schedule a conference with the court
  • Specifies the procedure for preparing the required email summary of discovery disputes and adds a 500-word limit per side
  • Notes that emails are the preferred method of contact with the court and that voicemail is not regularly checked and is not recommended
  • Removes a prior requirement to show good cause for extensions longer than 45 days to respond to the complaint
  • Extends the time to file a reply brief for a motion to transfer from seven days to 14 days
  • Deletes a previous provision by which substantive briefs could be submitted via audio file
  • Adds pages limits for Daubert motions (40 pages per side) and motions in limine (15 pages per side)
  • Requires that the paper copies of Markman briefs delivered to the Court be printed double-sided.



If You Can’t Build it, They Won’t Come: No Obviousness Based on Fanciful Engine Design

Reaffirming that a person of ordinary skill in the art must have been able to actually create a disclosure at the time of invention in order for it to serve as an obviousness reference, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed a decision by the Patent Trial & Appeal Board (the Board) in an inter partes review (IPR), concluding that a patent covering certain turbofan engine technology was not rendered obvious by a prior art publication that could not be realized into practice. Raytheon Techs. Corp. v. General Electric Co., Case No. 20-1755 (Fed. Cir. Apr. 16, 2021) (Chen, J.)

The issue on appeal was relatively straightforward. In an IPR, GE challenged as obvious a Raytheon patent that covered a specific design of geared gas turbine engine that provided for a “power density” higher than previously invented turbine engines. The patent defined “power density” as a “sea-level-takeoff thrust” divided by the engine turbine volume. During the IPR, GE relied on a 1987 NASA technical memorandum as art and argued that the reference, which envisioned superior performance characteristics based on an advanced engine that was made entirely of composite materials, rendered the challenged claims obvious. The parties did not dispute that this engine was unattainable in 1987, and may still be impossible today, because the envisioned composite materials do not yet (and may never) exist. The memorandum disclosed several performance factors, but not power density, sea-level-takeoff thrust or turbine volume. Nonetheless, GE argued, and the Board agreed, that the memorandum disclosed performance parameters that would have permitted an ordinarily skilled artisan to derive power densities that would have fallen within the range claimed in Raytheon’s patent.

On appeal, the Federal Circuit agreed with Raytheon, concluding that the imaginary engine of the NASA memorandum could not serve as an invalidating reference. In reversing the Board, the Federal Circuit reiterated two bedrock principles of obviousness law:

  • An obviousness reference must be enabled by the knowledge of an ordinarily skilled artisan at the time of the invention (but need not be self-enabling).
  • An invention cannot be rendered obvious by a non-self-enabling reference if no other prior art evidence or reference enables the non-self-enabling reference.

In addition, when a reference’s enablement is challenged, the party offering the reference bears a burden to establish that the reference, itself or in combination with other contemporaneous knowledge, was enabled.

Applying these principles here, the Federal Circuit determined that GE had not met its burden to show that the memorandum was indeed enabled. The Board, wrongly in the Court’s view, focused solely on whether an ordinarily skilled artisan was taught the parameters to ascertain a power density, rather than whether the prior art disclosed a turbofan engine possessing the requisite power density. Finding no evidence in the record to conclude that “a skilled artisan could have made the claimed turbofan engine with the recited power density,” the Court reversed.

Practice Note: Although this case does not break new obviousness ground, it reinforces the general [...]

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There’s No Sugarcoating It: Pocky’s Cookie Design Trade Dress Is Functional

Addressing for the second time whether the design of a chocolate-dipped, stick-shaped cookie was eligible for trade dress protection, the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held again that the product configuration was functional and therefore not subject to trade dress protection, affirming summary judgment for defendant Lotte International America Corp. Ezaki Glico Kabushiki Kaisha v. Lotte Int’l America Corp., Case No. 19-3010 (3d Cir. Jan. 26, 2021) (Bibas, C.J.)

Both Ezaki Glico Kabushiki Kaisha and Lotte make thin, stick-like cookies with one side dipped in chocolate or flavored cream. Ezaki Glico’s product, Pocky, and Lotte’s product, Pepero, can be seen in the images below. Ezaki Glico obtained two incontestable trade dress registrations for its Pocky product design as well as a utility patent for a “Stick Shaped Snack and Method for Producing the Same.”

In 2015, Ezaki Glico sued Lotte for trade dress infringement. The district court found the Pocky product configuration functional and therefore not subject to trade dress protection, and granted Lotte’s motion for summary judgment. In October 2020, on appeal, the Third Circuit issued its initial opinion affirming the district court’s decision and rejecting Ezaki Glico’s argument that its trade dress was not functional because it was not essential to its product. (Read more on the initial opinion here.)

Ezaki Glico petitioned for a rehearing en banc, which the Court rejected. Nonetheless, the original panel vacated its earlier ruling and issued a revised opinion that provided further clarification on the functionality doctrine, but likewise affirmed summary judgment for Lotte and held that the Pocky product configuration was functional.

The Third Circuit again rejected Ezaki Glico’s attempts to equate “functional” with “essential”: “If the Lanham Act protected designs that were useful but not essential, as Ezaki Glico claims, it would invade the Patent Act’s domain. Because the Lanham Act excludes useful designs, the two statutes rule different realms.” The Court cited examples from earlier cases to demonstrate that the proper inquiry for functionality looks to whether the particular design chosen for a feature, as opposed to the feature itself, is useful: “Though French press coffeemakers need some handle, there is no functional reason to design the particular handle in the shape of a ‘C.’ . . . And though armchairs need some armrest, there is no functional reason to design the particular armrest as a trapezoid.”

The Third Circuit looked to Ezaki Glico’s registrations for the features of the claimed trade dress, noting that in this case, “[e]very feature of Pocky’s registration relates to the practical functions of holding, eating, sharing, or packing the snack.” Accordingly, the designs chosen for the Pocky configuration rendered the product more useful as a snack and were “not arbitrary or ornamental flourishes that serve only to identify Ezaki Glico as the source.” Having determined that Lotte sufficiently demonstrated that the Pocky trade dress was useful, the Court held that it was “thus functional” and not subject to trade [...]

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