Spring is in the Air –
Nothing says spring better than a fast car. Not a self-driving autonomous car or one of those computer screen emblazoned luxury SUVs with cupholders and WiFi, but a true sports car with the existential reality of a mechanical shifter, stiff suspension, a harmonious exhaust, and two bucket seats. An open window and suntanned left arm complete the picture.
This fine mental image may vary from person to person. Perhaps the memory of a previously owned car will recreate that perfect sports car. Or perhaps the memory of a poster showing a Lamborghini Countach, Ferrari 328, Corvette or Porsche stapled or taped to a bedroom wall does it. Either way, the artful creations of car manufacturers have provided powerful and lasting images of their products and brands. Images so powerful at times that some 20, 30, or 40 year old cars are instantly recognizable. With such eye candy, manufacturers for years have turned to design patents to protect the ornamental appearance of their fossil fuel slurping creations. Design class D12 (Transportation) is full of thousands of examples of well known and lesser known cars, and subclasses 91 (distinct hood or cowl) and 92 (distinct trunk or notched back) seem to park many exotic sports cars. So what better way to say spring than to do a design patent search for some tasty examples.
But First the Basics
Design patents protect the ornamental appearance of an article, and not its structural or utilitarian features1. A new and nonobvious ornamental design for an article of manufacture is entitled to a design patent. Even buildings2 and computer icons3 are eligible for design patents. It only stands to reason that automobiles are eligible for design patent protection as well. The patent drawings for design patents rise to a level of artistic rendering that is usually not seen in utility patents, and for a good reason. The drawings serve to describe and claim the invention. So they should be exceptional. This of course makes for some nice viewing opportunities. It is, however, challenging to find a specific car of interest, since most design patents for cars have such nondescript titles such as “Automobile Body,” “Car Body,” or “Motor Vehicle.” Not much help when you want to find the design patent for your favorite car, old or new.
When viewing design patent drawings, you will notice that all views of the article are depicted. This is so that the article is fully described and claimed. You may also notice that some parts appear as dotted lines. For example, most cars have tires and wheels that are depicted as dotted lines. This simply means that the tires and wheels form no part of the claimed invention.
Some design patents have titles such as “Motor Vehicle/Model.” This is an attempt by the manufacturer to ensure that toy models of the car or replicas of the car (think Ferrari replica built on a Pontiac Fiero chassis) are covered by the design patent. Of course once the term of the design patent is over, models and replicas of a product may be fair game for public use if other types of intellectual property protection (trade dress, trademarks, copyrhts) cannot be asserted.
Replacement parts for razors, printers, and yes, automobiles, are big business. If you bang up your car, the insurance company would much prefer to buy an aftermarket replacement fender at a lower cost than the original OEM part from the manufacturer. In an attempt to gain monopolistic rights to replacement parts, many manufacturers have applied for design patents for the various components of their automobiles that are likely to need replacement (bumpers, fenders, grills, etc.). This area of intellectual property remains a hot topic, with many attempts to enact legislation to allow secondary parts makers to build aftermarket parts without liability for design patent infringement. Perhaps a topic for a future column, but for now, sit back and enjoy a small sampling of what the design patent vaults contain in the area of intellectual property that is easy on the eyes and does not require much reading.
Corvette Sting Ray
United States Design Patent D206,063
Easily the most recognizable U.S. sports car, the “Vette” is still in production today and has been so since 1953. The 1967 as shown here used a 427 cubic inch big block V8 that produced up to 435 HP. A true two-seater sports car with a fiberglass body and a cult following, the Corvette reigns king over American sports cars present and past.
United States Design Patent D257,834
The DeLorean DMC-12, the only car produced by John DeLorean’s company, was built from 1981-1983. The company went bankrupt after John DeLorean’s arrest for drug trafficking. It was unique with its gull wing doors and stainless steel body, and is one of the most recognizable 80’s cars, due in part to the movie “Back to the Future.”
United States Design Patent D199,433
The Porsche 911 is probably one of the most recognizable sports cars in the world. The 911 has been built since 1963, and this design patent is for the original car. The 911 is still in production today, but the rear mounted six cylinder engine has become a bit more powerful than the original 128 HP version. It is one of the oldest sports car nameplates still in production, and is synonymous with the Porsche name.
Porsche GT3 RS
United States Design Patent D623,557
The Porsche GT3 RS is a high performance version of the 911. It is a 500 HP monster, and retains the curvy and distinct lines of the original 911 design while achieving a top speed of 190 MPH.
United States Design Patent D455,102
The Lotus Exige and her topless sister Elise are two seat, rear wheel drive, mid-engined masterpieces of Lotus Cars. True to the design philosophy of the company’s founder Colin Chapman, the cars are built to handle incredibly well and go fast not due to huge motors, but due to light weight. A four cylinder motor pushes these cars to 150 mph while sipping gas. No wonder Tesla used this car as the glider for their Roadster.
United States Design Patent D470,435
Produced from 2001-2010, the Murcielago brandishes a 6.5 Liter V12 producing 670 HP. With scissor doors, angular design, long and low slung body, the Murcielago is truly a power broker. At 8 miles per gallon, it has a top speed of 212 mph. The looks of this car truly match its performance (and price).
United States Design Patent D422,942
Produced from 2007 to present, this Italian two door wields a 4.7 Liter V8 with a top speed of 187 mph. The looks of the GranTurismo are elegant and purely Italian sports car. The looks are a bit understated compared to some of the other Italian exotics, but with a button in the cabin to switch to straight pipes (a CO2 to noise converter), you still know it’s next to you at a red light.
- See The Limited Monopoly, October 2006.
- See The Limited Monopoly, September 2007.
- See The Limited Monopoly, September 2013.
In keeping with our educational mission, you can now search for your favorite patent law topic of interest at www.TheLimitedMonopoly.com.
Authors Robert D. Gunderman P.E. (Patent Technologies, LLC www.patentechnologies.com) and John M. Hammond P.E. (Patent Innovations, LLC www.patent-innovations.com) are both registered patent agents and licensed professional engineers. Copyright 2016 Robert Gunderman, Jr. and John Hammond.
Note: This short article is intended only to provide cursory background information, and is not intended to be legal advice. No client relationship with the authors is in any way established by this article.
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Categories: Design Patents