Foreign Businesses are Taking U.S. Design Patents Seriously, including Swatch, Midea and Philips

Once an afterthought for IP rights filers, U.S. design patents are now being taken more seriously. Several businesses that are based outside of the U.S. increased their filing activity substantially in 2022, some by more than 100%.

11 of the top 20 filers are non-U.S. based companies. The greatest increase for 2022 was the Swatch Group Ltd, up 134% and number 7 overall. Koniklijke Philips N.V., number 20 overall, was up 95%. Midea Group, a Chinese electrical appliance manufacturer, was up 190% with 84 design patents granted. It came in as number 15 overall.

Notably, Ford and Porsche were each down 49%, yet another reaffirmation that design copying, rampant in the auto world for decades, is not likely to slow. A relative new-comer to the luxury auto market, Hyundai Motor Company, was up 51%. The data was collected by Harrity & Harrity LLP, a reliable resource for patent and other IP data.

What can we infer from the data? U.S. design patents are increasingly important to some businesses, trendy consumer product companies like Nike and Apple, and especially foreign products manufacturers.

Design patents received an ironic boost from a high profile case that went on for eight years involving  Apple and Samsung. The two companies agreed to a settlement in the case, according to court documents in 2018 but did not disclose the terms. The settlement closed a dispute that started in 2011 when Apple accused Samsung (SSNLF) of “slavishly” copying the iPhone’s design and software features. A jury awarded Apple (AAPL)$539 million, leaving Samsung with an outstanding balance of $140 million it owed Apple. It was not clear  how much more, if anything, Apple received.

‘More than Money’

“This case has always been about more than money,” the company said in 2018, as reported by CNN. “Apple ignited the smartphone revolution with iPhone and it is a fact that Samsung blatantly copied our design. It is important that we continue to protect the hard work and innovation of so many people at Apple.”

Ultimately, jurors found Samsung had infringed on the majority of the patents in question — including software features like double-tap zooming and scrolling. Many devices also infringed on hardware style or icon setup. Although “Apple won most of the battles,” Samsung found way to “design around” the patents Apple claimed it copied.

The cost and impact were unique for a design patent, as well as the protracted time-line. It did establish that companies willing to fight and spend to keep their designs proprietary could succeed.

For the complete ‘Design Patent 100’, go here.

“Since the landmark jury verdict in the IP litigation between Apple and Samsung in 2012, which awarded more than $1B to Apple for infringement of several design patents,” \the law firm, Sterne Kessler recently reported. “Interest in design patents grew exponentially. That trend has continued in 2022.”

For the Sterne Kessler report, ‘2022 Design Patents Year in Review.’ go here.

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