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Penn Law alum and ITC Commissioner gives keynote at PIPG symposium on design patents

March 23, 2015

By Emily Offit C’17

On March 19, the Penn Intellectual Property Group featured a symposium on design patents and the convergence of existing intellectual property regimes. The event kicked off with keynote speaker Commissioner F. Scott Kieff L’94 of the U.S. International Trade Commission and featured a panel discussion about the past and future of design patents.

Kieff was nominated as commissioner of the ITC by President Obama in September 2012 and has since become a leading voice in intellectual property and intellectual trade law.

Kieff began his keynote address by describing basic techniques for how to be a less stressed law student and professional, including engaging more during class and making use of available networks. He also gave a brief overview of the various government agencies that deal with design patents, such as the ITC and Department of Justice.

Although less frequent than applications for utility patents, design patents have become much more prevalent in recent years. As panel speaker Charles Colman — of Charles Colman Law, PLLC — described it, the turn of the century marked the beginning of the “design patent renaissance.”

There has been a recent shift in the types of products that apply for these patents, moving towards more electronic products and footwear.

“The basics of design law is simple,” Kieff said. “Unlike utility patent law, which covers the functional elements, design patent law is all about non-functionality or ornamental design.”

The panel discussion delved more into the history, functionality, and verbalization of design patents in the legal system.

University of Kansas Professor of Law Andrew Torrance presented unique statistics about patent citations over the last 20 years, explaining that aesthetic appeal of a product has recently proven less important in court rulings.

With the large media coverage of the patent disputes between Apple Inc. and Samsung Electronics Company, Villanova University School of Law professor Michael Risch touched on the issue of patent law surrounding the graphic user interface, or GUI.

“A design patent is nice but it doesn’t protect someone from doing the same thing in a way that is ornamentally different,” Risch said. “When we think about design patents we might want to consider doing it the way we do it with copyright.”

This symposium marked the eighth annual event for the Penn Intellectual Property Group, a student group at Penn Law that holds events to promote interest in intellectual property.

Tweets from this event: