Remarks by Director Iancu at the ID5 Annual Meeting

Remarks delivered at the ID5 Annual Meeting

Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Andrei Iancu

October 15, 2020 (Recorded)

October 29, 2020 (Broadcast)

As prepared for delivery

Hello, fellow representatives from the EUIPO, JPO, KIPO, CNIPA and WIPO. I wish I could have welcomed you in person, here in Washington, D.C., as we did five years ago for the first-ever ID5 meeting. But, alas, in the throes of a global pandemic, this is not possible. Thankfully, the digital revolution that has been facilitated by the protections we provide to inventors allows us to continue our work in even these most difficult of times.  

Industrial design plays a major role in our ability to connect through the use of cell phones, laptops, desktops, cameras, and gadgets—all tied to the Internet. Since the beginning of the modern era of invention in the 1800s, industrial design (ID) has been an essential aspect of the development of new products. ID helps turn the most complex technologies into products that can be used by billons of people, surmounting massive differences in language and culture. But none of this is easy, and many of the legal issues associated with industrial design are becoming more and more challenging.

With the advent of personal computing and the ubiquity of digital devices, we have found that many legal protections put in place for an earlier era fail to provide effective protection for computer-related and digital designs. A noteworthy example is the graphical user interface—or GUI—responsible for bringing design to the software sector. Creating an interactive experience with an electronic device is fundamentally different from traditional industrial design. The current generation of GUI allows users to record normal daily events and interactions, manipulate them, and share them on vast networks in ways that were never before imagined.

In this new era, the physical and digital worlds have merged. And since the future of the user interface is expanding beyond hard displays, a new challenge is arising in protecting designs that enhance user experiences in all types of virtual and augmented realities. All of our intellectual property (IP) offices are confronted with the challenges of how to protect next-generation technologies. Indeed, many of those technologies are here today. We cannot even imagine what it will be like in 20 or 30 years.

More than ever, industrial designs are being used to create intuitive interfaces that turn complex technologies into useful tools. It is essential for our IP offices to work together to anticipate and address the challenges posed by the new generation of products and the way they interface with users, such as through virtual, or augmented reality. But this is nothing new: industrial design has always been on the forefront of leading-edge technologies. 

The first industrial design patent issued in the United States was to George Bruce in 1842 for a new typeface used on wooden blocks. Today, new typefaces continue to be created and protected. By the way, George Bruce’s first design patent had no art or images. Instead, Mr. Bruce provided a written description of his new typeface. Today in the United States, judges try to avoid using words altogether to describe designs when making infringement determinations. Instead, they compare the art in the design patent to the art of the accused infringer to determine if there are grounds for infringement. 

A lot has changed. And, over the years, the number of design patents has grown dramatically. The same year Mr. Bruce received his design patent in 1842, only 12 other design patents were issued. Today, at the USPTO, we are headed toward 50,000 design patents a year. Globally, IP offices together receive almost 1.5 million industrial design patent applications per year. Gone are the days when industrial design took a backseat to patent and trademark protection. And with the onset of the next industrial revolution, with the deployment of autonomous vehicles, intelligent robots, and many other previously unimaginable products, industrial design rights have become a crucial component of IP portfolios.

So, it almost seems appropriate that this year’s Sixth Annual ID5 meeting is a virtual event, doesn’t it? Since we have started this collaboration, we have learned that the ID5 is an incubator for the advancement, modernization, and harmonization of global industrial design policies and practices. Our working together on developing common tools and practices is more important than ever before. We must continue to pursue ways to make it easier for millions of talented designers in the world to seek the protections that are offered to them through our offices.

Since we first convened in December 2015, the ID5 Forum has accomplished perhaps more than any other global collaboration. We have greatly exceeded even the most ambitious hopes for improving our collective productivity. Among other things, all the ID5 Partner Offices have implemented WIPO’s Digital Access Service. This electronic document exchange system has made the process of seeking design protection in multiple jurisdictions around the world significantly more efficient. It has resulted in substantial cost savings for applicants. And, given the challenges presented by the pandemic in obtaining certified paper copies of applications, our harmonized electronic system has eliminated countless problems and headaches for applicants across the globe.

Another accomplishment was the agreement by JPO, KIPO, and the USPTO for a set of common recommended design practices. This agreement is in line with the draft Design Law Treaty that is currently still pending at WIPO. While working under the ID5 umbrella, our three Offices have encouraged other jurisdictions to follow suit as they analyze their own design regimes and requirements.

Another success was the completion of 16 projects and comparative studies providing applicants with numerous new comparative reference manuals to help them more easily navigate the global design patent system. The topics include eligibility, grace period, partial designs, and 3D printing.

I am extremely pleased with all the progress we have made working together with your Offices. Through our many interactions, we have created many great friendships. We cherish them and look forward to building these relationships. And it will be truly magnificent when we get to see each other in person once again, shake hands, exchange ideas and stories, and share a meal.

We are truly excited about our future cooperation as we advance the thriving field of industrial design. Thank you for your hard work, your engagement, and your perseverance in making this partnership work to the benefit of all of us, and to the millions of practitioners of industrial design throughout the world. I wish you a very successful meeting and a happy and healthy remainder of 2020 for you and your families.