By Colin B. Harris and Patrick L. Miller
| May 7, 2019

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) held its 13th annual Design Day on April 25, 2019.

Hosted by Lakiya Rogers (SPE TC 2900) and Elizabeth Ferrill (Finnegan), Design Day 2019 began with introdutory comments from Drew Hirshfeld, Commission for Patents. 

Following Commissioner Hirshfeld, Karen Young (Director for TC 2900) discussed the state of TC2900, including various design patent-related statistics for TC 2900.  Among other information, Director Young indicated that TC 2900 would be adding more examiners, including both Supervisory Patent Examiners (SPEs) and junior patent examiners.   

David Gerk, Attorney-Advisor Office of Policy, then presented on the topic of "Beyond the USPTO: Design Developments Across the Globe."  Mr. Gerk's presentation touched on changes in international design practice, including changes in grace period in Japan (now twelve months), Singapore's new design protections, partial designs in China, and availability regarding Digital Access Service (DAS) for priority documents. 

The Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO)'s Todd Hunter, Director of Copyright and Industrial Design Branch, followed Mr. Gerk to discuss design-related views from Canada's perspective.  Notably, Mr. Hunter highlighted Canada’s shift from 10 years to 15 years of design patent protection.

The next presenter discussed a number of recent Federal Circuit decisions involving design patents, probably most notably In re Maatita.  This presentation was followed by William LaMarca, Senior Counsel for Intellectual Property with the Office of the Solicitor, who was the USPTO's lead counsel for In re Maatita.  Mr. LaMarca shared his personal account and insight of the In re Maatita case. 

Kate Eary of Gentex Corporation presented next.  She discussed Gentex's 125-year history and the importance design has played in product evolution. 

Following lunch, Sarah Brooks from IMB Corp. provided an overview of the design culture at IBM and the impressive returns on their new design program. Ms. Brooks shared helpful lessons that she learned from implementing their design program.

Next, Dana Weiland, an Examiner in Art Unit 2919, provided her helpful perspective on searching an examining design patent applications. This presentation included a overview of classifying new applications, a behind the scenes look at an Examiner’s docket, and the steps of a sample examination. Examiner Weiland noted that design Examiners have a flip rate of less than 0.5 seconds when reviewing prior art references, which is very impressive.

Jenae Gureff then provided a report on several recent PTAB decisions. Interestingly, the decisions presented included inter partes reviews (IPR), a post-grant review (PGR), and an ex parte reexam.

Next, the Honorable Jill Hill, an Administrative Patent Judge at the Patent Trial and Appeal Board provided a view from the bench. Judge Hill’s presentation explained the options and procedures available to applicants. Judge Hill also provided some comments regarding effective briefing in design cases, which we found to be very helpful.

After a brief break, a panel of in-house counsel provided an overview of design patent portfolio management. The panelist represented Hubbell Incorporated, Eli Lily and Company, and Husqvarna Group and gave an overview of their respective organization, including how invention disclosures and inventor interaction worked.

The final presentation of the day was an overview four recent district court decisions involving design patents. The products involved in these district court cases included a wine rack, chalk holders, vehicle wheels, and promotional vehicles, again demonstrating that design patents can be a useful tool for protecting IP rights in many different types of inventions.

Design Day continues to be a well-attended, well run event that is helpful to Examiners and practitioners alike. Design Day has historically be held at the end of every April so mark your calendars for next year. However, be sure to register early as this popular event is sure to fill up quickly.

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