• Jul 23 2019
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  • Category: CAFC Updates

Automotive Body Parts Association (ABPA) sued Ford in district court, seeking a declaratory judgment of invalidity or unenforceability of two design patents that protect designs used in certain models of Ford’s F-150 trucks – – one for an ornamental design for the exterior of a vehicle hood and one for an ornamental design for a vehicle head lamp. The inventors of these designs (artists holding Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees) had full control and responsibility for the exterior appearance of the Ford F-150 truck and created and selected part designs based on aesthetic appearance. Although engineers reviewed the final designs, there were no changes to the aesthetic designs of the parts based on engineering or functional requirements. ABPA eventually moved for summary judgment. The district court considered ABPA’s arguments, denied the motion, and sua sponte granted summary judgement to Ford. ABPA argues that Ford’s hood and headlamp designs are functional because they aesthetically match the F-150 truck, but did not identify any design patent case ruling that aesthetic appeal of this type is functional. The CAFC holds that, even in the context of a consumer preference for a particular design to match other parts of a whole, the aesthetic appeal of a design to consumers is inadequate to render that design functional. The CAFC also rejects ABPA’s attempts to develop design patent-specific exhaustion and repair rules, noting that while a sale of the F-150 truck permits the purchaser to repair the designs as applied to the specific hood and headlamps sold on the truck, the purchaser may not create new hoods and headlamps using Ford’s designs.  Ford chose to claim designs as applied to portions of particular components, rather than claiming its design as applied to the whole truck, and to make and use those designs without Ford’s authorization is to infringe. Accordingly, the CAFC affirms.

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