On July 23, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (the “Federal Circuit”) issued a precedential opinion affirming summary judgment in a case that challenged the validity and enforceability of design patents related to the Ford F-150 hood and headlamp. Brooks Kushman attorneys represented Ford Global Technologies, LLC (“Ford”), in the appeal, as well as in the underlying case in which summary judgment was granted.
The Automotive Body Parts Association (“ABPA”) brought suit against Ford, seeking a declaratory judgment that two of Ford’s design patents, covering designs for the hood and headlamps of Ford’s F-150 trucks, were invalid or unenforceable. ABPA argued that Ford’s design patents were functional based on aesthetic appeal and that the doctrines of exhaustion and repair rendered Ford’s patents unenforceable against ABPA.
Brooks Kushman attorneys brought a motion for summary judgment, which was granted by the district court. On appeal, the Federal Circuit sided with Ford and upheld the lower court decision in an important precedential decision. In particular, the court refused to expand the functionality doctrine beyond utilitarian functionality, and therefore the court held that “aesthetic appeal” does not render a design “functional.” The Federal Circuit also emphasized the principle that design patents and utility patents should, whenever possible, receive identical treatment under the law. Thus, the court rejected ABPA’s attempts to develop unique exhaustion and repair rules for design patents.
Brooks Kushman shareholders Marc Lorelli and Frank Angileri led the team that obtained this favorable ruling from the district court on summary judgment. This highly publicized decision continues to influence patent law and design patent cases today.