Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Register Confuses Utility and Design Patents

It surprises me how often even industry publications get IP wrong. A case in point: The Register, the well-respected, often irreverent, but definitely tech-savvy website issuing mainly out of the UK today published a piece poking fun at Apple for patenting (and the PTO for issuing) what appears to be a power adapter for what used to be known as an automobile cigarette lighter (now known in PC-speak as a 12-volt power port).

The Register noted that "the device is so substantially similar to a standar automotive 12-volt power plug . . . that the penetrating intelligence of the US Patent and Trademark Office would surely not grant a patent for it if that were, indeed, its sole purpose. After all, the USPTO defines a patent - or, more specifically, a utility patent, as 'a new, useful, and nonobvious process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof." The post then went on to speculate as to what other possible uses the "power connector" could be put to.

The problem? The patent number -- D585,375 -- clearly signifies that the patent is a design patent, not a utility patent.

I might be more forgiving if the mistake had been made by a general-interest publication, but The Register holds itself out as "Biting the Hand that Feeds IT" and should know better.

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