Second Brownbag of the Semester – February 1, 2013

The lecture can be heard here.

Mark D. Janis

Intellectual Property Protection for Virtual Designs

Industrial design has traditionally devoted itself to the artifacts of the man-made physical world.  Correspondingly, the intellectual property laws that apply to design innovation have taken physical artifacts as their model.  For example, one such set of laws – the U.S. design patent system – has long focused on devising mechanisms for rewarding advances in the visual aesthetics of product shapes.  Design patents have issued for the shape of the COCA-COLA bottle and the shape of the Volkswagen BEETLE chassis, for example.

As all of us become increasingly engaged with online environments, it is inevitable that the enterprise of industrial design, and the legal protection for the products of that enterprise, will shift.  Current designs for mobile phones and tablet computers already reflect this shift; the shapes of these products are becoming more standardized, while the screen displays are becoming the critical visual element.  This in turn suggests that the iconography of screen displays – graphical user interfaces, individual icons, and other visual elements, to which we refer collectively as “virtual designs” – will increasingly demand the attention of the intellectual property law.  The recent Apple v. Samsung litigation illustrates this point.

Our project focuses on the response of the U.S. design patent system to this new era of virtual designs.  We explain how the design patent system currently accommodates virtual design, and we connect current practice to historical precursors, showing that many of the legal principles that are needed for the evaluation of virtual designs had already been developed decades earlier in other design contexts.  We also explain how the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is currently examining design patent applications for virtual designs.  Here we offer results from an empirical analysis of design patents on virtual designs.

Mark D. Janis teaches courses in patents, trademarks, and other areas of intellectual property law at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law in Bloomington, Indiana, where he is the Robert A. Lucas Chair of Law and the Director of the Center for Intellectual Property Research.  Professor Janis has authored a number of books, including the treatise “IP and Antitrust” (with Hovenkamp, Lemley and Leslie), two casebooks (Trademarks and Unfair Competition: Law and Policy (3d. Ed.), and Trade Dress and Design Law, both with Dinwoodie) and other books on trademark law (with Dinwoodie).  He has published numerous law review articles and book chapters on patent law, intellectual property and antitrust, trademark law, intellectual property protection for plants, plant biotechnology and intellectual property protection for designs.

 Professor Janis is the winner of a Collegiate Teaching Award and a Faculty Scholar Award (both from the University of Iowa College of Law), and INTA’s Ladas Award in 2008.

 Prior to joining the faculty at Indiana, Professor Janis was the H. Blair & Joan V. White Chair in Intellectual Property Law at the University of Iowa College of Law.  He practiced patent law at Barnes & Thornburgh (Indianapolis) from 1989 to 1995.


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