After nearly a decade of legal proceedings, a precedential decision was issued on September 15, 2023, in a design patent case between Columbia Sportswear and Seirus Innovative Accessories, Inc. In this hotly contested case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit decision created a new law that helps designers of products protect their intellectual property rights, reversed a jury verdict that had been rendered against Columbia, and granted Columbia a third trial in the case to reevaluate its claims of infringement under the new law.
Design patents are an important form of intellectual property, covering unique, ornamental designs. They have been given increased attention since Apple won a $1 billion verdict against Samsung in 2012—a case that went to the Supreme Court. Design patents offer powerful protection because they allow the patent owner to claim the infringer’s total profits from the sale of the infringing items.
The design patent in this case relates to Columbia’s highly successful Omni-Heat® family of products that use heat reflective material in outdoor apparel to keep users warmer. Columbia secured design patents from the Patent Office that protect different designs for the heat reflective material. One such design includes wavy lines. Seirus’ competing HeatWave line of reflective products used similar wavy lines. During the trial, Seirus argued against infringement, relying on—and presenting to the jury—a number of other fabrics that had wavy lines. In its new, precedential opinion, the Federal Circuit held that, because the patent was limited to heat reflective materials, other fabrics were irrelevant and should not be considered by the jury. This ruling will give greater value to design patents by preventing would-be infringers from confusing a jury with irrelevant and extraneous designs. It will thus protect design innovators like Columbia from having their valuable designs infringed.
The decision also considered the extent to which a party can avoid a finding of infringement by putting its logo on its products.
This article summarizes aspects of the law and does not constitute legal advice. For legal advice for your situation, you should contact an attorney.
This case was tried at the district court and argued in part at the Federal Circuit by Schwabe lawyers Nika Aldrich, Jason Wrubleski, and Scott Eads.