Last week, a U.S. appeals court announced it would reconsider a decision made in favor of GM which upheld the automaker’s design patent for a car fender. The GM patent was challenged in a lawsuit filed by alternative and speciality parts provider LKQ, which argues that design patents for simple parts like car fenders stifles competition. The case is considered of particular interest to auto companies and insurance companies.
Per a recent report from Reuters, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit announced last Friday that all 12 of its sitting judges would hear LKQ’s challenge to the ruling. The full court will examine the standard set for an unpatentable design based on preexisting designs, as well as if a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court ruling related to non-design patents applies to the design-patent standard.
Last year, LKQ requested that the U.S. Patent Office tribunal cancel a GM design patent regarding a front vehicle fender following the expiration of a licensing agreement, after which GM threatened to sue LKQ partners for infringement. LKQ told the Patent Trial and Appeal Board that the patent was invalid on the basis of two preexisting publications, including an earlier design patent and a brochure that outlined a fender design for the 2010 Hyundai Tucson which bears a similar design.
In a brief, GM stated that its fender design was innovative and that the decision should stand. However, auto parts companies argued that automakers use patent designs to stifle competition for aftermarket parts, stating that the fender patent would result in replacement parts that are more expensive and harder to find.
Per Reuters, a spokesperson said that LKQ was pleased with the decision. GM did not comment on the ruling.
Going forward, the full Federal Circuit agreed to rehear LKQ’s argument that the test for obviousness in a patented design was overruled in the 2007 Supreme Court ruling, which rejected rigid formulas for obviousness in patents.