For inventors who wish to patent their inventions, may times they will need to acquire both utility and design patents. What is the difference between utility patents and design patents? Design patents protect and cover the physical shape and appearance of the invention, whereas the utility patent protects the functionality of the invention. For instance, if you have a TV lift mechanism invention that you wish to patent, the physically building shape and exterior structure of the mechanism is covered under design patents. The way the lift operates up and down is protected under a utility patent.
Both utility and design patents are put in place to protect companies and individuals from having their work stolen and copied by competitors. What happens though when a competitor infringes on the design and utility patents of another? A perfect example of this can be demonstrated in the currently ongoing trial between Apple and Samsung.
In a recent battle between Apple and Samsung, Apple is claiming that Samsung’s smartphone and Galaxy Note 8.0 Mini infringe upon their design and utility patents for the iPhone and iPad. Apple believes their search feature technology was copied by Samsung. They also believe the design of Samsung’s smartphone too closely resembles their own iPhone and are afraid it is causing consumer confusion.
Samsung doesn’t deny the similarities between their products and Apple’s, but simply states the function will dictate the form of the product. Their main legal counsel spokesman, Charles Verthoeven, further stated Apple can’t patent a “rectangle with rounded corners”. In his logic he compares the smartphone to the television. Televisions no matter the manufacturer were all tube shaped in design and are now all flat screened. With the television, function determined the natural course of the physical shape of the television. Manufacturers all designed according. He reasons that smartphones are no different.
It will be interesting to see if Samsung wins the argument that the design of a smartphone is determined by function. Could then the design patent be trumped by utility?