Design patents can be a useful way to complement an IP portfolio because they can protect the way a product looks instead of how it works. Many consumer products can be defined this way, either in conjunction with, or even in lieu of, utility patents. Where utility patents cover a technical innovation, design patents must claim “ornamental” designs and cannot cover a “primarily functional” design that is essential to the use of the covered product.
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Anyone who uses a mobile device knows there are times when hands-free is a necessity. Enter National Products, Inc., a US maker of RAM® Mounts for securely mounting electronic devices—including phones, tablets, laptops and radar detectors—in cars, trucks, bikes and boats, among other vehicles. Like many US retailers, National Products discovered knockoff copies of its own products for sale in the market. In particular, National Products identified several Chinese companies importing mounts similar to its RAM® products and selling them through third-party reseller websites.
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Nautilus Inc., which owns exercise brands like Nautilus and Bowflex, and ICON Health & Fitness, which owns NordicTrack among other exercise brands, have been battling over intellectual property for years. ICON recently upped the ante by bringing a complaint to the International Trade Commission, seeking to exclude all imported Bowflex exercise machines from entry into the United States.
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