The Power of the Design Patent

Have you heard of design patents? If you haven’t, you’ve missed a great deal of intellectual property drama. In the United States, a design patent is a patent granted on the ornamental design of a functional item. So a great number of things can, in theory, get design patent protection. For example, Nike has thousands of design patents for its shoe designs.  

The Power of the Design Patent
By Harry Du

Sometimes entrepreneurs fail to recognize the power of a design patent. The narrowness of design patents sometimes make people wonder how effective they may be. However, it is surely an important part in building up a company’s IP arsenal. One glaring example is the epic Apple v. Samsung patent battle in the U.S. In fact, at the core of the raging war is a design patent: US D504,889, which can be found easily at Google Patent.

If you take a look at D504,889, you will be surprised by the outrageous simplicity of this patent. There is only one claim, which reads: “We claim the ornamental design for an electronic device, substantially as shown and described.” Then there are nine figures with one sentence descriptions. That’s it! The figures show all the views of a round cornered, rectangular block, which presumably is the iPhone® people are using every day now. Compared with the hundreds of thousands of other patents Apple owns, this one definitely is one of the most simplistic out there. Yet this four-page document is now the basis for a multi-billion dollar lawsuit.

Apple is claiming that Samsung has copied its design for the iPhone®, which essentially revolutionized the smart phone industry. Samsung, on the other hand, is jumping up and down in utter protestation that such a simple and conventional (as Samsung alleges) design deserves the costly monopoly Apple is seeking. The jury is still out there. We will find out the results soon. However, no matter Apple wins or loses, there is no doubt that the seemingly plain design patent can be powerful and dangerous.

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