BLOGS: Furniture Law Blog

Tuesday, September 23, 2008, 6:22 AM

Federal Circuit Strengthens Design Patents

In a decision long-awaited by the intellectual property community, the Federal Circuit on Monday handed down the decision in the design patent case Egyptian Goddess v. Swisa. In the en banc decision, the court addressed several major issues for those holding design patents, including whether the "point of novelty" test should continue to be used as a test for infringement and whether district courts should perform claim construction in design patent cases.

After review of Supreme Court and Federal Circuit precedent, the court ultimately scrapped the "point of novelty" test in favor of the "ordinary observer" test. Previously the court required a patent holder to prove infringement under both tests. Now, a design patent holder needs only to show that an ordinary observer would have difficulty distinguishing the two designs and be induced to buy one, thinking they were buying another. Under the new test there is a three-way comparison between the prior art, the patented design, and the infringing design. The accused infringer bears the burden of showing likenesses to the prior art of either its design or the patented design. However, the patent holder still bears the burden of providing infringement.

In addition, the Federal Circuit held that the district courts are not required to attempt to construe the claims of a design patent by providing a verbal description of the design. The court held that it would not be reversible error for a district court to do so and that the district courts are free to provide reasonable guidance to a jury as to key features of the designs at issue.

A full copy of the opinion may be found here.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008, 12:13 PM

Massage Chair Manufacturer Awarded Over $9 Million In Infringement Actions

In an exemplary display of how intellectual property can protect furniture rights, Human Touch, a Long Beach, CA-based manufacturer of massage chairs, announced today that it was awarded more than $9 million in two separate actions that involved trademarks, trade dress, unfair competition, and patents.

As reported by Home Furnishings Business, Human Touch was awarded a jury verdict $4.55 million against American Lighting Industry for trademark and trade dress infringement as well as unfair competition. Additional awards of $2.8 million and $425,000 were awarded to Human Touch against King Kong USA and King Kong Presdient Bernard Koay respectively.

The trademarks all include the name Human Touch. The trade dress rights extended to the design and overall appearance of Human Touch's HTT-100 model massage chair.

In a separate action, Human Touch was awarded another $1.7 million in patent infringement damages for infringement of Human Touch's patent (U.S. Pat. No. 6,629,940) covering lower leg message technology used in the footrest of some of its chairs. The defendant in that case is WFO Imports, LLC.

The fully story from Home Furnishings Business may be found here. Human Touch's press release may be found here.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008, 12:49 PM

Heading to the fall High Point Market? A Refresher on "Knockoffs" may be in order

With the fall High Point Market right around the corner (Oct. 20-26, 2008), the issue of "knockoffs" is again ripe for consideration. A derogatory term, "knockoff" is used to describe slavish copies of original designs. All to often an original design is copied after its initial display at High Point showrooms (or elsewhere).

As an original designer or purchaser of original designs, furniture companies need to keep an eye out for "knockoffs" as well as stay informed of how to protect their designs before and after initial public disclosure. As a company or designer looking for inspiration, it is important to walk the line to avoid infringing the intellectual property rights of others.

A recent Home Furnishings Business webinar provides insight on this ever-present and compelling issue. You can find the webinar here.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008, 5:59 AM

Trial of French Heritage suit again Ethan Allen begins tomorrow

The business interference suit French Heritage brought against Ethan Allen in 2000 begins tomorrow in Connecticut. The suit claims that Ethan Allen allegedly interefered with French Heritage's business relationships and contacts with an Indonesian supplier and joint venture partner PT Alis Jaya Ciptatama. More information can be found here.
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