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THE POWER OF A DESIGN PATENT

Everyone has experienced an auto accident of some form, be it a fender-bender or a more severe impact. While more forceful impacts can damage structural and/or functional components of a vehicle, even low-speed impacts can cause cosmetic damage that can be costly to replace.

So the next time you find yourself in a body shop pondering the cost of replacing cosmetic auto parts, consider this: many automobile body parts are patented. Companies in the auto industry have begun procuring design patents on the ornamental design of certain auto parts, including fenders, grilles, and quarter panels. This has led to some recent debate, since these design patents allow the manufacturers control over the original part, as well as replacement parts having the same patented design.  

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SENATE PASSES PATENT REFORM ACT OF 2011

On March 8, 2011, the U.S. Senate passed its version of proposed patent reform, the Patent Reform Act of 2011 (S.23), by a 95-5 vote. Among other things, the Patent Reform Act would generally establish a first-to-file system to replace the current first-to-invent system, bringing U.S. law closer to that of other jurisdictions around the world. Some commentators have noted that if ultimately signed into law, this bill would constitute the most significant patent law overhaul in over a half-century.

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WHY THE RUSH? PATENT APPLICATION TIMING UNDER THE AIA

In addition to the often discussed “first-to-file” provisions of the America Invents Act (“AIA”), the expanded scope of public materials which patent examiners can now cite as “prior art” (when evaluating whether a patent should be granted on an applicant’s invention) provides some additional motivation for filing U.S. patent applications with more urgency than in the past. For instance, public disclosures made anywhere in the world prior to the effective filing date of a new U.S. patent application can now, for the most part, be considered as prior art. By way of contrast, under the “old” laws, there was a one year grace period in which third party publications could potentially be exempt from citation if published no more than one year before the application filing date.

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