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Archived updates for Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Design Inventorship Contributions Must Be Substantial

In Sunbeam Products, Inc. v. Wing Shing Products (BVI) LTD. (Fed. Cir., August 24, 2005; nonprecedential) the court affirmed that changes suggested by Sunbeam's Mr. Coffee employees were not sufficient to rise to the level of joint inventorship for the Wing Shing coffeemaker claimed in Design Patent No. 348,585 (right).

Between August 1991 and early 1992, employees of Mr. Coffee had a series of communications with representatives of Wing Shing regarding the coffeemaker design. In the course of those communications, Mr. Coffee employees asked that the design be changed by (1) eliminating grooves on the brew basket; (2) eliminating ridges on the reservoir cover; (3) moving the power switch from the base to the left column; (4) opening the brew basket from the left to right; (5) moving the water-level gauge from the right column to the left column; (6) inserting a metal plate on the bottom of the base; and (7) adding a shroud around the power switch. Wing Shing incorporated those changes into the design, which became known as the "AD10" model design.

The court concluded that the changes suggested by Mr. Coffee were no more significant than those made by the party claiming inventorship in Hoop:
Sunbeam argues that the district court applied the wrong test when it ruled
that the "improved design must contain an inventive concept." We disagree. In
Hoop v. Hoop, 279 F.3d 1004, 1007 (Fed. Cir. 2004), we stated that "minor
differences between the prior art and the new claim will not suffice" to make
the person who suggested the changes that resulted in the differences an
inventor. We added that the differences "must be substantial and not just superficial; the new design must contain an inventive concept." Id. (citations omitted). In particular, as a result of the changes to the design of an eagle-shaped motorcycle fairing guard made by the party claiming inventorship, the new fairing design had a noticeably different visual appearance. "must be substantial and not just superficial; the new design must contain an inventive concept." Id. The district court therefore
did not err by employing the "inventive concept" test. Furthermore, the bankruptcy court found that the Mr. Coffee employees’ contributions were not significant, considering the overall appearance of the coffeemaker as well as the limited and mainly functional nature of the suggested changes. In Hoop, we also articulated the ultimate test for design patent inventorship to be "whether the second asserted invention is ‘substantially similar’ to the first." In that case, we agreed with the trial court that the party claiming inventorship was likely not an inventor because the new fairing design had "strong similarities" to the drawings provided to that party by the inventor. Id. at 1008. In the present case, the changes suggested by Mr. Coffee are no more significant than those made by the party claiming inventorship in Hoop. Accordingly, we affirm the bankruptcy court’s ruling that Mr. Coffee was not a joint inventor of the ’585 patent.
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