When is a Name More Than Just a Name?

July 13, 2021

Eric L. Amundsen

This article is part of Wolf Greenfield's design patents page. To learn more about design patents, click here.

The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit was tasked with determining whether a design patent with a claim for a “pattern for a chair” and drawings showing a pattern but no chair could be infringed by baskets which have the same pattern.  In Curver Luxembourg, SARL v. Home Expressions Inc. (938 F.3d 1334, 2019), a case of first impression, the Federal Circuit provided guidance regarding the scope of a design patent. 


        

Curver’s Claimed Design (USD677,946)            Home Expression’s Baskets


Finding for the defendant, Home Expressions, the Federal Circuit determined that “claim language can limit the scope of a design patent where the claim language supplies the only instance of an article of manufacture that appears nowhere in the figures.” (938 F.3d at 1340).  Traditionally, only the figures of a design patent have been considered when determining the scope of the claim; however, in Curver, the Federal Circuit found that the scope of protection is determined by considering what is shown and described in the patent.  Accordingly, despite finding that Home Expression’s baskets incorporated  the pictured design, the Federal Circuit nonetheless held that the baskets could not be found to infringe Curver’s patent, which claims a pattern for a chair.  In reaching this decision, the Federal Circuit noted that the title of Curver’s patent had been amended during prosecution to a “pattern for a chair” to satisfy the article of manufacture requirement.  The original title, “Furniture (Part of -)”, was rejected.  The figure descriptions and claim also were amended to be consistent with the title, leaving Curver’s patent replete with the phrase “pattern for a chair.”  The Federal Circuit also highlighted that none of the figures in Curver’s patent showed anything other than pattern itself; the pattern was not illustrated on any particular article of manufacture. 

Given the longstanding precedent that “design patents are granted only for a design applied to an article of manufacture …,” (938 F.3d at 1340) and not to a design by itself, the Federal Circuit held that Curver’s text could not be ignored because the text provided the only source of identification of the article of manufacture of the patent.  Thus, the scope of Curver’s patent was defined by both the figures and the description and was limited to a chair.

What does this mean for your design patent protection?  In view of this decision, applicants should consider carefully how their claimed design is shown and described in their design patent applications.  The text of a design patent can matter and control the scope and meaning of your claim. The Court relied on the text in the description in this case because they found that the drawings did not include an article of manufacture.  It remains to be seen whether the text of a design patent can limit the claim when an article of manufacture is shown in the drawings.