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IPO Report Shows Design Patent Filings Continue to Rise

Written by Tracy-Gene Durkin, Esq.
Sterne, Kessler, Goldstein & Fox

Posted: August 19, 2013 @ 9:30 am
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Patent illustration taken from US Design Patent No. 687,739, granted to Audi on August 13, 2013.

The Intellectual Property Owners Association (IPO) published its 2013 IP Record, an annual report on patent trends from around the world. Using data from a range of sources including the USPTO Performance and Accountability Report FY 2012 and WIPO 2012 World Intellectual Property Indicators, the report contains a breadth of information on intellectual property activity such as top patent holders, patent filing and grant trends, and foreign filing statistics.

In the past decade, design patent filings and grants have experienced continuous growth. The 2013 IP Record confirms that design patent filings and grants are still on the rise—658 more design patents were filed in 2012 than in 2011—and the data suggests that the trajectory of design patent applications is going nowhere but up.

Design patents are essential in protecting the ornamental design of consumer products and their components; the intense litigation of the Apple v. Samsung lawsuits stressed the importance of design protection. The significance of design patents to the Apple v. Samsung lawsuit appears to have affected other companies’ patent strategies as well. The fifty companies on the IP Record’s list of the top 50 U.S. design patent grantees for 2012 were collectively granted greater than 150 more patents than the top 50 companies of 2011. Samsung, the top design patent recipient in both 2011 and 2012, alone accounts for almost a third of this growth—it was granted 378 design patents in 2012, exactly 50 more than in 2011. Apple, the #7 patent owner in 2011, rose one spot in 2012 and acquired 25 more patents than its total in its previous year.

Apple is not the only company that advanced in this year’s rankings. Microsoft successfully registered twenty more patents than in 2011, becoming the #2 patent grantee of 2012—a two spot increase. Research in Motion (RIM) joined the top ten design patent-owning companies of 2012 after receiving 161 design patent grants. RIM, known for its wireless products such as the BlackBerry, had by far the largest increase of any company, jumping eight spots by securing 65 more patents in 2012 than it did in 2011. The top ten list of design patent owners is completed by other consumer product mega-corporations including Procter & Gamble, LG, Toyota, Philips, and Nike. At #8, FIH Limited, a subsidiary of Taiwan-based manufacturing company Hon Hai Precision Industry Company, was the sole electronics manufacturing company to break the top ten list (Hon Hai, traded as the Foxconn Group, was in the top ten patent owners in 2011, but dropped to #20 in 2012, possibly bolstering its FIH subsidiary in the process).

Not surprisingly, consumer product companies comprise the majority of the top fifty design patent grantees of 2012 as well as 2011. The list consists of automotive companies such as Honda, BMW, Daimler AG (Mercedes-Benz), and Ford; electronics companies including Panasonic, Nokia, Hewlett-Packard, and Motorola; and other household names including Gillette, Beifa, Goodyear, and Steelcase. Manufacturing companies and patent portfolio companies complete the list.

Fifteen new entities entered the top fifty design patent grantees in 2012: Seiko Epson Corporation, IDC Enchanted Lighting, Colgate-Palmolive, Grohe AG, Ford, HP, Meyer Intellectual Properties, Pur, Conopco, Whirlpool, Porsche, Resmed, Pacific Market International LLC, Eglo Leuchten GmbH, and Kimberly-Clark Worldwide. Top 2011 companies that were bumped off the list due to the newcomers include Makita, Otter Products, Brother, Skechers, Black & Decker, Xerox, Callaway, Hosiden, Sanyo, and Karsten Manufacturing. The largest drop was Xerox Corporation, which registered 63 patents in 2011. The company, ranked #21 in the 2011 data, did not qualify for the top 50 design patent grantees for 2012.

On the other hand, a few companies made significant gains in both the rankings and the actual securing of design patent grants. The USPTO granted Toshiba Lighting & Technology 34 patents in 2011, resulting in its #55 ranking (a five-way tie for #50). In 2012, Toshiba secured 45 grants, moving up to #35.  Target Brands moved from #29 to #17, securing 82 design patents—a 35 patent increase from the previous year. Columbia Insurance Co., [owned by Berkshire Hathaway,] nearly doubled their number of design patent grants from 37 to 73. Columbia Insurance had the greatest Top 50 climb, moving up in rank from #43 to #21.

Overall, the top 50 design patent grantees for the year seemingly fluctuate in relation to the market. Not surprisingly, new products and new innovations create increased demand for design protection, explaining why numerous notable companies are included in the IP Record’s rankings in some years and not others. With the growing emphasis on design, it wouldn’t be surprising to see more new companies appear on IPO’s 2014 IP Record next year.

About the Author

Tracy-Gene G. Durkin is a director and Leader of the Mechanical Patent and Trademark Practice Group at intellectual property specialty law firm Sterne, Kessler, Goldstein & Fox. Tracy is a recognized design patent expert and represents some of the most forward thinking companies in the area of product design and product packaging design.


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  1. It’s interesting that Target gets design patents, but Walmart doesn’t. I guess Target is looking to protect its private label products and Walmart doesn’t have private label products.