After getting the go-ahead from the Ninth Circuit earlier this year on her “That’s Hot!” trademark infringement case against Hallmark, hotel heiress Paris Hilton has apparently signed up (although unwillingly) for another intellectual property lesson. This time, she’s going to be studying design patents. Her professor, a footwear designer called Gwyneth Shoes, claims that its design patent has been infringed by Ms. Hilton’s kicks. (Source.)
Design patent protection is similar to copyright protection, in that the alleged infringer is in trouble if they’ve produced something that is substantially similar to the protected design. However, while the government simply gives out copyright registrations, upon request, design patents are only awarded after an examination is done and it has been determined that the proposed design is novel (i.e., no one else has previously designed a product like this).
The prize for successfully prosecuting a design patent application? Complete national monopoly for 14 years. Since copyright protection lasts for a minimum of 70 years, some people would argue that a design patent is hardly worth the effort and cost. The problem with that logic is that copyrights come with a whole boatload of limitations, leaving room for potential defendants to get away free. As a key example, fair use and independent creation are no defense to a charge of design patent infringement. Just ask Paris Hilton, who undoubtedly has just learned about this little wrinkle from her attorney.
This article was originally posted on The Tactical IP Blog