In February 2016, the Taiwan Intellectual Property Office (TIPO) issued the revised “Directions for Determining Patent Infringement” (“Directions”), which include substantive changes regarding how Taiwan courts assess infringement of design patents. Prior to revision, the Directions employed a two-step test to determine design patent infringement: 1) the “ordinary observer test;” and 2) the “point of novelty test”. Under that approach, even in cases where a patented and an accused design were nearly identical in appearance, the courts typically found no infringement if the accused product failed the “point of novelty” test. Under the revised Directions, the “point of novelty test” is removed, leaving an “ordinary observer test” and a new auxiliary “three-way comparison test”.
Application of the modified test
Vehicle designs constitute 10% of all design patent applications in Taiwan. Not surprisingly, the courts have taken up a number of infringement cases in recent years involving vehicle designs. Looking at how the IP Court compares the patented design with the allegedly infringing product in these cases can cast some light on the changing way in which design patent infringement is determined in Taiwan.
Under the two-step test of the earlier Directions:
In Honda Motor Co., Ltd. v Kwang Yang Motor Co., Ltd. (2009), the IP Court took the view that, given the crowded scooter market, the scope of protection of Honda’s patented design should be limited. On the “point of novelty” test, the court concluded that the accused product did not include any of the novel features of the patented design in major positions (handlebars, handlebar stem, seat, tank hole cover on the rear shell) and, therefore, the accused product was deemed not to infringe the patented design. Images of the patented design on the left, and accused product on the right:
Under the revised Directions:
Under the revised Directions, the perspective of “ordinary observer” is the primary mechanism employed in determining whether an accused product infringes a patented design. Additionally, where the “ordinary observer test” is inconclusive, there is an auxiliary “three-way comparison test” to assess similarity based on visual analysis of the prior art, the patented design and the accused product.
In Giant Electric Vehicle (Kun Shan) Co., Ltd. v Tei Sheng Development Co., Ltd. and Wei Sheng Marketing Enterprise Limited (2016), the IP Court concluded that with regard to electric bicycles, the front and side portions are the most visible in normal use. Moreover, the identical features in both the patented design and the accused product are in those portions, which comprise a very large visual area of the entire bicycle. Ordinary purchasers viewing the electric bicycles at issue would mistakenly deem that the accused product is the same type of electric bicycle as the patented product. Therefore, the accused product fell into the scope of the patented design’s claims and was deemed infringing.
In February 2017, the IP Court of Appeals affirmed the above decision. It found that although the accused product contained several features that differ from those of the patented design, the court concluded that these differences are minor, do not affect the overall visual impression, and are simply modifications of prior art. As the identical features in the patented design and the accused product exist in the front and side portions of the vehicles, they were therefore infringing. Images of the patented design on the left, and accused product on the right:
The IP Court applied the standard under the new Directions, in which the determination on infringement is the result of the ordinary observer test using overall observation and comprehensive comparison. The identical features and different features in both the patented design and accused product should all be considered in comprehensive comparison. However, an overall observation gives greater weight to those features that are most visible in normal use and those identical features that more readily affect the overall visual impression.
The reduction of the two-step test to a single “ordinary observer test” to determine infringement under the new Directions and the IP Court’s application of the same is encouraging in that design patent owners can expect more reasonable and predictable decisions regarding design patent infringement going forward.
For more information on patent matters, please contact Peter Dernbach at firstname.lastname@example.org or Betty Chen at email@example.com.
Our summer intern, Andy Yang, also worked on this article.