Addressing claim construction issues in the context of a design patent, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed the district court’s construction, finding that it failed to account for the overall ornamentation of the design. Sport Dimension, Inc. v. The Coleman Company, Inc., Case No. 15-1553 (Fed. Cir., Apr. 19, 2016) (Moore, J).

The design patent at issue related to a personal flotation device. The district court determined that the Coleman Company’s flotation device featured an armband and torso tapering that represented the best available design for a personal flotation device. The district court also looked to a related utility patent filed by Coleman in ultimately determining that the armband and torso tapering were functional elements. Having determined that the elements were functional, the district court eliminated the armbands and side torso tapering from the claim scope entirely. Coleman appealed.

Citing Ethicon, the Federal Circuit explained that it is improper to entirely eliminate a structural element from the claimed ornamental design, even when that element also serves some functional purpose. Such an approach departs from the established legal framework for interpreting design patent claims. The Court explained that design patents protect the overall ornamentation of a design, not an aggregation of separable elements. According to the Federal Circuit, by eliminating particular structural elements from the design patent’s claim scope, the district court improperly converted the claim scope from one that covers the overall ornamentation to one that covers individual elements.

The Federal Circuit then analyzed the overall design of Coleman’s personal flotation device, including the features ignored by the district court, and determined that the design was minimalist, with little ornamentation. The Federal Circuit agreed that the armband and torso features were indeed functional, and so the fact finder should not focus on the particular designs of those elements when determining infringement but rather should focus on what these elements contribute to the design’s overall ornamentation. In this case, because the overall design featured many functional elements and a minimalist overall ornamentation, the Court concluded that the overall claim scope is accordingly narrow. The case was remanded for consideration of infringement under the proper claim construction.