Apple’s iPhone is probably one of the most loved phones in the world and its most characteristic feature is its look and design. Over the decades, other major ruling electronics companies have also come up with many smartphones with diverse designs driving the competition. Barbieri Montgomery, executive professor of law and business at Northeastern University expounds on the infringement claim Apple made on Samsung Electronics back in 2012 when design patents were yet to become a thing.
A “patent” basically is what one would get to protect one’s innovation or invention. It gives its owner the legal right to exclude others from making, using, selling, and importing that invention. But most people are ignorant about the protection of intellectual property (IP): design-patent protection.
What is the difference between a utility patent and a design patent? -Utility patents are what most people think of as patents covering new and useful devices, processes and materials. Design patents, on the other hand, cover the new, original, ornamental design of an article of manufacture. For a particular device, one or more utility patents may cover the useful, functional features and the method of using the device, while a design patent covers the way it looks. While utility patents often have numerous, lengthy, precisely worded claims, each design patent has a single claim, which is shown in one or more drawings.
Back in 2012, Apple accused Samsung of infringing a variety of IP assets: three utility patents and four design patents, as well as registered and unregistered trade dress. Apple was later awarded more than $1 billion by Samsung against their lawsuit. The controversy was followed by a clamor over Apple having a “monopoly over rectangles with rounded corners,” and had put design-patent protection in the spotlight.
Significantly over the past few decades, investment in design patents have been increasing from mere thousands to couple million today. The rate of growth has varied by industry, decreasing in some, remaining fairly stable in certain sectors (such as automotive), and enjoying spikes of interest in footwear and other consumer goods sectors.