By Colin B. Harris
| April 17, 2015
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) held its 9th annual Design Day on April 14, 2015.
The day started off with the Commissioner for Patents, Margaret (Peggy) Focarino, welcoming everyone to Design Day. Commissioner Focarino commented how much Design Day has grown over the last nine years, from a small conference room nine years ago to filling up the entire Madison Auditorium today.
Next, the Director of Design Technology Center TC 2900, Robert Olszewski, spoke about the growth of the Design Technology Center and shared statistical data regarding the Center. In particular, the Design staff now has 9 Supervisor Patent Examiners, with a plan to hire 3 more, along with creating two new art units. Additionally, there are currently 143 Examiners, and the Center plans on hiring 30 more. The average amount of time to a 1st Action is currently 13.8 months, and the average amount of time until issue is 17.3 months. Mr. Olszewski said that the Center's goal is to reduce the pendency; he also spoke about an initiative in the Center to issue an Office Action on all old cases.
Garth Rademaker, a Supervisor Patent Examiner in TC 2900, and the lead on examiner training, spoke about training in the TC. According to Mr. Rademaker, since design patents are so different from utility patents, training happens in the TC rather than Patent Training Academy, preferably on a one-on-one basis. With the hire of so many new examiners recently and 30 more examiners coming in, productivity of experienced examiners will likely be down as the new examiners are trained.
David Gerk, a patent attorney in the USPTO's Office of Pilicy and Internatinal Affairs, spoke briefly about Hague Agreement highlights. Specifically, that the Hague Agreement will take effect in the U.S. on May 13, 2015 and filings can be done directly through WIPO or indirectly through the USPTO if the USPTO is the Applicant's contracting party.
Following David Gerk’s presentation regarding Hague Agreement highlights, the next session delved into certain aspects of the highlights. Notably, the presenters discussed the following aspects: (1) the USPTO has its own dedicated “Hague” webpage
, (2) the USPTO does not have its own Hague-specific filing form, so the WIPO forms must be used (updated forms will be posted on May 13, 2015); (3) the country(ies) and fees must be designated/paid at the time of filing; (4) a petition to accept color drawings is not necessary; (5) up to 100 designs may be filed for designs in the same Locarno class; (6) Hague-based design applications will be published (typically within 6 months unless early publication is requested); (7) the file history is made publicly available for an unpublished U.S. application claiming priority to, incorporating by reference, or otherwise identifying a published Hague-based design application; (8) CPAs are not available, so it is necessary to file a continuation or divisional; and (9) provisional rights are available based on publication, except a continuation or divisional application does not receive provisional rights based on the parent’s publication. See also our previous post here
regarding the Final Rules on Changes to Implement the Hague Agreement Concerning Industrial Designs.
Sachiko Chiba, an Examiner of Household Equipment Design Division of the Japan Patent Office, traveled to Design Day to present on “Effective Utilization of the Design System in Japan.” Ms. Chiba’s presentation covered damages caused by counterfeit products, utilizing design rights and product design by companies, and design strategy and types of utilization of industrial design rights.
Just prior to lunch, a panel comprised of practitioners, draftspersons, and a USPTO representative discussed design drawing requirements and best practices for preparing design-quality drawings. Among other things, the panelists emphasized the importance of communication between practitioners and draftspersons and of providing a sufficient number of views to adequately represent the claimed design. The panelists also discussed advantages and disadvantages of including a specific color in design drawings versus including the USPTO’s “standard” pattern representation for a color and providing specific color tones or color tone ranges in the specification.
After lunch Robert Brunner (Founder/Partner of Ammunition Group) gave an entertaining keynote address entitled “Being Design Driven.” The address highlighted a number of products designed by Mr. Brunner and his company (including the Leeo smart nightlight, Beats headphones, Square credit card readers, Lyft mustache, and Polaroid cube camera) and the importance of design in the marketplace. Mr. Brunner explained that design provides an organization’s interface to the outside world and helps define who an organization is. He advised that companies should not think of design as merely one stage in product development, but as part of the conversation at every stage of product development.
After Robert Brunner’s presentation, Glen Alexrod spoke about the experience of his company, Nylabone®, and the use of Design patents. Mr. Alexrod noted he only has an average of half a second to get the attention of a customer while they walk the aisles of a pet store. Design patents help his company get the attention of customers in order to make a sale.
A panel of design experts moderated by Charles Mauro (President/Founder of MaruoNewMedia) commented on how changes in the law have impacted design experts. Cooper Woodring argued that the approach of factoring out functional features in Richardson v. Stanley Works
was troubling because (1) the patent examiner examined the entire design and (2) because the entire design must always be considered in validity and infringement analyses. He suggested that there may not be any designs that should be invalid as functional. Given that a design should not be invalid as functional if the same function can be accomplished by alternative designs, he proposed that patent owners in litigation could use a strategy of creating real alternative designs (if none are readily available) to defend against charges of invalidity based on functionality.
Ronald Kemnitzer (Professor Emeritus at Virginia Tech) addressed the hypothetical “designer of ordinary skill who designs articles of the type involved
” in an obviousness analysis. He argued that there have been major changes in the real world of design between 1985 and 2015 that affect who should be considered a designer of ordinary skill. Thirty years ago there were 6,000 designers who were generally found in corporate design departments and these were mostly white men. Today, there are 40,000 designers of much more diverse background who are evenly split between corporations and consulting. Given the broad training received by current designers, the advent of computers, and the fact that most designers work in multiple product disciplines, Dr. Kemnitzer argued that a design expert should be competent to offer expert opinions on obviousness even if they have never designed an article of the particular type involved in the litigation.
Next, Peter Bressler (PBressler LLC) discussed confusion that arises given the verbal focus of the case law and the visual focus of design patents. Legal concepts in design patent law such as “functionality,” “designer of ordinary skill,” “ordinary observer,” and “substantially the same” are all fraught with difficulty. Because these definitions are unclear, courts and parties are forced to spend time arguing about what the definitions mean rather than focusing on the merits of the case. For this reason, he believed a broader consensus on the legal definitions used in design patent law is needed. He further argued that while the Apple v. Samsung
case has increased the value of design patents at present, if the Federal Circuit overturns the 35 USC 289 standard for design patent damages awards, the value of design patents could be substantially diminished.
The final presentation of the day was given by George Raynal (Saidman DesignLaw Group LLC). Mr. Raynal provided an entertaining overview of recent decisions involving design patents. He pointed out the contrasting approaches used by district courts in deciding claim construction as well as validity and infringement. This included a review of when courts did or did not elect to provide a written claim construction as opposed to relying only on the drawings, the relevance of the prior art in an infringement analysis, the significance of the drawings, the relevance of the prosecution history (including titles), etc. He provided statistics indicating that over the past year in published decisions patent owners had an even chance of prevailing on validity, but had a tough time prevailing on infringement. Mr. Raynal also noted that there were currently 6 pending cases involving design patents at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC). However, as one audience member noted, the CAFC issued Rule 36 opinions for two of those cases during Design Day. Stay tuned for blog posts on those cases.