If you thought the era of silly shape patents was over, don’t hold your breath. Months after Apple used a patent for rounded rectangles to chase away iPad competitors, Motorola has received a patent for an eight-sided cellphone design.
The Patent Office approved the new “invention” this week and the news was first reported on Twitter by Professor Sarah Burstein:
Burstein, who is a design patent expert at the University of Oklahoma, explained that her “rounded octagon” comment was tongue-in-cheek but confirmed that the patent had been granted and that it covers the displayed shape of a smartphone.
She added that the scope of Motorola’s design patent is more narrow than Apple’s infamous rounded rectangles patent. Here is a picture from Apple’s patent:
To successfully invoke its new patent against an infringer, Burstein said Motorola would have to show that a consumer would find the supposedly infringing product has the same design as Motorola’s design.
The “rounded octagon” patent is likely to add more grist for critics who question the wisdom of granting monopoly protection over basic shapes and concepts (14 years for design patents, 20 for regular ones). This year, a new law in the U.S. has made it easier to obtain design patents, which are cheaper and faster to get than regular patents. Meanwhile, companies like Apple continue to use a variety of other intellectual property measures like trademark, trade dress and copyright to wrap legal force fields around their products.
The new patent may provide new ammunition to Google, which owns Motorola, in its ceaseless rounds of patent litigation with Apple and other rivals in courtrooms around the world.
The patent can be seen at the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Unfortunately, the USPTO’s website only permits images to be viewed with Internet Explorer, Netscape or Opera browsers. If you’re using another browser, here’s a PDF link.