Industrial Designers Say Apple Design Equals Functionality

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By Tony Dutra

Aug. 4 — Industrial designers came to Apple Inc.'s side Aug. 4, asking the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold a ruling requiring Samsung Electronics Co. to hand over all its profits on sales of smartphones and tablets that infringed Apple's design patents.

Friend-of-the-court briefs supporting Apple’s position are due Aug. 5. But “111 distinguished industrial design professionals and educators” got theirs in early.

The 111 signatories included Calvin Klein, former Braun designer Dieter Rams and heads of industrial design teams at Microsoft, Bentley Motors and Louis Vuitton.

It will likely outdo any other third party's brief—it even tops Apple's own brief—in touting the value of design.

“Visual design does not only drive sales,” according to the designers. “The history of industrial design and the experience of America’s most profitable industries demonstrate that a product’s visual design becomes the product itself in the mind of consumers.”

The brief repeatedly relies on “modern cognitive science” to support the argument that design drives consumers' valuation of functionality. Cognitive science is the study of the mind and its processes, including thought, learning and mental organization.

Source Material:

U.S. Patent:No. D593,087 No. D604,305 No. D618,677

The designers point to studies showing that people think Coca-Cola tastes better when it comes out of the distinctive contoured bottle. And General Motors surpassed Ford because the 1926 Chevrolet was “bold and colorful” compared to the “notoriously unattractive” black Model T, they argue.

Similarly, in this case, the designers said, “the success of the iPhone is due to its merger of industrial design (i.e., the physical appearance of the hardware) and interaction design (i.e., ease of use and GUIs).” It was entirely appropriate for a jury to award all Samsung's infringement-related profits to Apple for intentionally copying the most important—and patented—elements of the iPhone.

The high court is set to hear arguments Oct. 11 in the case. Samsung Elecs. Co. v. Apple Inc., No. 15-777 (U.S., to be argued Oct. 11, 2016) (137 PTD, 7/18/16). The question before the court is whether a jury can, under Section 289 of the Patent Act, award full profits even if the infringed patents cover only design aspects of a multi-component, multi-function device.

True to form, the designers said that design is even more important with “complex technological products,” particularly if “parity in functionality is assumed across manufacturers.” In those cases—which presumably the authors meant to include smartphones—the consumer associates the underlying functional attributes with the design, according to the brief. When Samsung stole the design, it stole “the mental model” the consumer had of the entire phone, justifying the full profits award, the designers concluded.

Mark S. Davies of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, Washington, filed the brief.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tony Dutra in Washington at adutra@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mike Wilczek at mwilczek@bna.com

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