Egyptian Goddess v. Swisa (Fed. Cir 2008, en banc)
In a rare unanimous en banc opinion, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has revived the value of design patent protection by loosening the standard for infringement. The opinion – penned by Judge Bryson – rejects the “point of novelty” test as a requirement to prove infringement of a design patent. Instead, the judges agree that the 1871 Gorham “ordinary observer” test is the “sole test for determining whether a design patent has been infringed.”
The focus of the Gorham test is to look for substantial similarity between the patented design and the accused design. It is called the ordinary observer test because the similarity is considered from the perspective of an ordinary observer who is familiar with the art. Although Gorham only requires a comparison between the patented and accused designs, prior art designs will generally be useful for highlighting differences. A second pro-patentee rule that emerges from this case is that the burden of production of prior art designs will fall on the accused infringer. On claim construction, the Federal Circuit agreed that a ‘verbal description’ of the diagrams is not required, but will not – by itself – be reversible error.
Ordinary Observer With a Tight Focus: Although the patentee was able to change the law, it actually lost the day. In the appeal, the CAFC concluded that even under the ordinary observer test, “no reasonable fact finder could find that EGI met its burden of showing, by a preponderance of the evidence, that an ordinary observer, taking into account the prior art, would believe the accused design to be the same as the patented design.”
The courts application of the law shows that proving infringement under the ordinary observer test will not be a walk in the park for design patent holders. Many cases will likely still turn on technical points of similarity rather than simply a broader totality of similarity. Yet, despite the potential difficulties, the situation is vastly improved from the hardships imposed by the point of novelty test.
More to come…