Antiquated Design Patent Law Could Stall Innovation and the Progress of Technology
Patent law was meant to protect invention. However, it was created at a time when products were much simpler than they are today, when they often required just one design patent to cover items like the handle of a spoon or a carpet pattern. Today, design patents can be issued for a single icon or an animation. Smartphones can incorporate 250,000 or more design and utility patents. The law, as it is being interpreted today, does not work for modern products. If a single design patent is deemed infringed upon, the patent owner can be awarded all of a product’s profits. These windfall damages could be devastating to a company of any size. Legal experts and companies of all sizes agree the legal precedent in this case could diminish innovation, stifle competition, encourage opportunistic lawsuits and have negative ripple effects throughout the economy.
At Samsung, innovation is our passion. It is what we do, what motivates us as engineers and designers and what we believe drives our industry forward. We have been first to market with numerous products across the home appliance, home entertainment, mobile and wearable categories and more. We are the largest design patent holder in the U.S. As a leader in technology and design, we feel a responsibility to protect the future of innovation and ensure that improper interpretation and application of U.S. design patent law does not curb the progress of our industry or science.
In December 2015, we filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court asking the Justices to review the way design patent laws are applied. Our petition centers on two main points – the proper scope of a design patent and the damages design patent holders can obtain. If the Court takes the case, it will be the first time the Court has addressed design patents in more than 120 years.
At the Federal Circuit, several respected corporations and public policy watch groups filed amicus briefs in support of Samsung. Google, Facebook, eBay, Dell, Hewlett-Packard and others agreed that the total-profit rule is “out of touch with economic realities” and the results could “hinder innovation” and stop companies from allocating funds to research and development. Mark Lemley Esq., a professor at Stanford Law School, along with other law professors from colleges and universities across the country, wrote that the rule “makes no sense” and could “lead to absurd results and have a devastating impact.” Other groups have voiced concerns about the potential decrease in consumer choice, increase in consumer cost and the loss of jobs.
At the Supreme Court, Public Knowledge, a public interest group dedicated to the freedom of expression and access to information, filed a brief stating that if the legal precedent in this case stands, it would “likely discourage many innovators from entering markets, cutting directly against the very purpose of patents as promoters of innovation.” We expect many more amici to file on our behalf. To date, Apple stands alone.
To protect the future of innovation, design patent laws must be interpreted in a way that makes sense for modern products. Design patents must not be given too broad a scope and damages must not be windfalls vastly out of proportion to the contribution of the patented design. If the legal precedent in this case stands, the consequences could be dire for the advancement of industry, innovation and science. We are asking companies of all sizes in all industries to join us with their support.
Representatives of third-party advocates as well as Samsung’s legal team are available for interviews. For more information or to obtain the amicus briefs, please contact Danielle Meister Cohen or Amanda Staab on the Samsung Electronics North America Corporate Reputation and Communications team at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.