Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Happy birthday, Barcode!

On October 20, 1949, Norman Woodland and Bernard Silver filed a patent application titled "Classifying Apparatus and Method." 3 years later, on October 7, 1952, U.S. Patent 2,612,994 issued. The '994 Patent protected an apparatus for classifying articles having concentric circular light-reflective outer classification lines, and inner auxiliary lines:

The inventors sought to solve a local food chain's need to design a system for reading product data automatically. It's fair to say they succeeded. Read about their story here.

And thanks Google for commemorating this technological advance!

Read more about the bar code here.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Pro se plaintiff's attempt to get $1 billion from Nokia didn't work out so well

Tony Colida owns a number of design patents for ornamental designs relating to cellular phones. Unlike utility patents, design patents cover only the ornamental features of the protected invention, and not the functional features. Colida's 4 designs are depicted below:

Colida is no stranger to patent infringement litigation. In fact, he has unsuccessfully appealed judgments of noninfringement against him at least nine times. In this case, he sued Nokia for its Model No. 6061 phone, depicted below:

Acting pro se, Colida sought $1 billion in damages. He moved for a default judgment against Nokia. Nokia, on the other hand, asked for dismissal and sanctions pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 11. The Magistrate Judge entered a 42-page report recommending Nokia's motion be granted and Colida's be denied. The Court did exactly that, and sanctioned Colida by entering an injunction preventing him from filing any infringement suit in the Southern District of New York without first getting permission from the Court. Colida appealed.

The Federal Circuit first addressed the merits of whether dismissal of Colida's complaint was proper. The Court restated its recent announcement of the test for design patent infringement:
infringement of a design patent is determined not by the design's "point of novelty," but whether an "ordinary observer" would find the design and accused product "substantially the same."
The Magistrate found that only 1 of Colida's 4 asserted designs (the right-most design depicted above) featured a "claim-shell" design. Colida offered no argument or explanation as to how Nokia's design bore anything remotely similar to his patent. The Federal Circuit stated the point bluntly:
Colida's infringement claims were facially implausible and provided the district court with no basis on which to reasonably infer that an ordinary observer would confuse the pleaded patented designs with the accused Nokia 6061 phone.
The only similarity the Court found between Colida's patents and Nokia's phone was the folding design. But this folding element is functional, not ornamental, and thus not protected with design patents.

Finally, the Court upheld the Rule 11 sanction, as Colida's infringement claims were objectively baseless. This combined with his overall pattern of filing meritless suits justified sanctions.

Decision affirmed.