The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled on Sept. 22 that the "ordinary observer" standard is the sole test for determining design patent infringement, replacing the "point of novelty" test used for more than 20 years. The ordinary observer test includes whether an object claimed to be infringing is so similar to the claimed design that a purchaser familiar with the prior art would be deceived by the similarity between the claimed and accused designs and inducing that purchaser into purchasing one, mistaking it to be the other.
The decision could have far-reaching implications for the automotive aftermarket, as car manufacturers are currently applying for, and receiving, design patent protection for cosmetic and crash parts. The ruling brings the infringement analysis for design patents, which offer 14 years of patent protection, a step close to that of a utility patent, which lasts 20 years and protects functional improvements on existing patented items or any new inventions. Design patents protect ornamental design, appearance or shape of an item.
Out of concern that patent law could eliminate competition in the aftermarket parts industry, the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA) has joined the Quality Parts Coalition (QPC) with several other associations and businesses. QPC says it’s committed to working with Congress to ensure that U.S. design patent law preserves competition, protects consumers’ rights and halts the expansion of an auto industry “monopoly” on aftermarket parts. For more information, visit www.qualitypartscoalition.com.