IFI Has Not Forgotten About Design Patents: The US Design Top 50

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In the US, designs can be patented.  According to the US Patent & Trademark Office:
A design consists of the visual ornamental characteristics embodied in, or applied to, an article of manufacture. […] A design patent protects only the appearance of the article and not structural or utilitarian features.

Design patents are often overlooked and patent searchers often deliberately exclude them from their searches.  Normally, patent searchers focus on utility patents – the patents that cover the "structural or utilitarian features".  Every year, IFI CLAIMS publishes its list of the top US patent assignees.  See for example IFI CLAIMS 2015 Top 50.  When compiling our Top 50 list, IFI includes only Utility patent grants and applications.  Until now, IFI has not published a Top 50 for Design Patents. 

But IFI CLAIMS has not forgotten about design patents and we do think they are important.  US Design patents (and plant patents) are maintained in the IFI CLAIMS Global Patent Database.  Design patents are available through the CLAIMS Direct Web Service and API.  

2015 US Design Patent Top 50

For the record, here is the 2015 US Design Top 50:
Rank Assignee Count
1 Samsung Electronics Co Ltd 1428
2 LG Electronics Inc 455
3 Microsoft Corp 318
4 Apple Inc 189
5 Nike Inc 171
6 Koninklijke Philips NV 166
7 Ford Motor Co 143
8 Google Inc 124
9 Honda Motor Co Ltd 100
10 3M Innovative Properties Co 89
11 Procter and Gamble Co 85
12 Target Brands Inc 84
13 Bayerische Motoren Werke AG 78
14 GM Global Technology Operations LLC 68
15 Bridgestone Corp 67
16 Panasonic Intellectual Property Management Co Ltd 66
17 Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co 65
18 Johnson S C and Son Inc 64
18 Kohler Co 64
18 Michelin Recherche et Technique SA Switzerland 64
18 Robert Bosch GmbH 64
22 Compagnie Generale des Establissements Michelin et Cie 62
23 Daimler AG 61
24 General Electric Co 52
24 Hewlett Packard Development Co LP 52
26 Caterpillar Inc 51
26 Deere and Co 51
28 Sony Corp 49
29 BSH Home Appliances Corp 48
29 Jaguar Land Rover Ltd 48
31 Toyota Motor Corp 47
32 Brother Kogyo KK 45
33 Gillette Co 44
33 Suncast Technologies LLC 44
35 HTC Corp 41
36 Harry Winston SA 40
36 Salomon Sas 40
38 Kimree Hi-Tech Inc 38
38 Oakley Inc 38
38 Spectrum Diversified Designs Inc 38
38 Toshiba Corp 38
42 Smc Corp 37
43 Acushnet Co 35
43 Cree Inc 35
43 Eaton Corp 35
43 Japan Aviation Electronics Industry Ltd 35
43 Tencent Technology (Shenzhen) Co Ltd 35
43 Whirlpool Corp 35
49 FCA US LLC 34
49 Magpul Industries Corp 34
49 Mitsubishi Electric Corp 34
49 Storz Karl GmbH and Co KG 34

There were a total of 26,000 design patents issued by the USPTO in 2015. This compares with 298,407 utility patents issued. 

Design patents are used less frequently than utility patents.  In 2015, Samsung received 5,072 utility patents (ranking it #2 behind IBM’s 7,355).  Samsung tops the Design patent list with 1,428 design patents.  This list is based on IFI CLAIMS Standardized Assignee data and CLAIMS Direct. 

Design Classifications

There are patent classifications specific to design patents.  Here are the top 10 patent classifications in 2015.  The classification code, record count and definition are shown.  Also shown is a recent example of a design in each classification.  CLAIMS Direct provides these drawings through the attachment API.  

Top 10 2015 Design Patent Classifications
US Patent Classification  2015 Record Count Definition Example
D14 4,374 Recording, Communication, or Information Retrieval Equipment US-D765067-S1 “Mobile Phone”
LG Electronics Inc

D12 1,887 Transportation US-D764972-S1 “Utility Vehicle”
Polaris Industries Inc

D24 1,749 Medical and Laboratory Equipment US-D765241-S1 “Syringe”            
Owen Mumford Ltd

D06 1,577 Furnishings US-D764819-S1 “High Chair”
Thorley Ind LLC

D09 1,485 Packages and Containers for Goods US-D764930-S1 “Laundry detergent packaging bag”
HEX Performance LLC

D08 1,462 Tools and Hardware US-D764268-S1 “Wire Gripper”
Nagaki Seiki Co Ltd

D07 1,428 Equipment for preparing or serving food or drink US-D764856-S1 “Slow cooker”
Koninklijke Philips NV
D13 1,326 Equipment for Production, Distribution, or Transformation of Energy US-D746229-S1 “Engine generator”
Yamaha Motor Power Products Co Ltd
D26 1,240 Lighting US-D746496-S1 “Vehicle front lamp”
GM Global Technology Operations LLC
D23 1,185 Environmental Heating and Cooling; Fluid Handling and Sanitary Equipment US-D762281-S1 “Shower head”
Brasscraft Manufacturing Co

Classification D21 “Games, Toys and Sports Equipment” is ranked #12.  This category provides what are arguably the best images, such as US-D765191-S1 “Toy doll” from Little Kids Inc.  

Apple vs. Samsung

Looking at the Top 10 classifications, we can see that D14 “Recording, Communication, or Information Retrieval Equipment” dominates the other classifications.  D14 illustrates why Design patents are very important.

According to Wikipedia:
On January 5, 2007, 4 days before the iPhone was introduced to the world, Apple filed a suite of 4 design patents covering the basic shape of the iPhone. These were followed up in June of that year with a massive filing of a color design patent covering 193 screen shots of various iPhone graphical user interfaces.
In two separate lawsuits,[48][49] Apple accused Samsung of infringing on … four design patents (United States Patent Nos. US-D504889-S1, US-D593087-S1, US-D618677-S1, and US-D604305-S1). 
The result of the first trial:
On August 24, 2012 the jury returned a verdict largely favorable to Apple. It found that Samsung had willfully infringed on Apple's design and utility patents
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apple_Inc._v._Samsung_Electronics_Co.  There have been many appeals.  

On October 11, 2016, the case was argued before the US Supreme Court.  See http://www.theverge.com/2016/10/11/13241446/samsung-vs-apple-supreme-court-design-patents.
Three utility patents were also cited in the complaint, but designs were critical in the outcome.  These design patents are summarized below – they all belong to the D14 classification and all are assigned to Apple Inc:
Design Patent Title First Figure
Granted May, 10, 2005
Electronic device
Granted May 26, 2009
Electronic device
Granted Nov. 17, 2009
Graphical user interface for a display screen or portion thereof
Granted June 29, 2010
Electronic device

It is interesting that not only is D14 (covering communications equipment) the top design classification, but that Samsung is the top recipient of design patents.  In 2015, they received nearly 8 times as many design patents as Apple did.  

What is the final word on this case?  We don't know yet.  On October 11, the issue was argued before the US Supreme Court.