Where Does the Line End: Situating Artistic Infringement in a Legal Context
On September 15, 2023, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit issued clarifying guidelines regarding the scope and timeframe of art used in design patents. In Columbia Sportswear North America, Inc. v. Seirus Innovative Accessories, Inc. (2023), the court of appeals found that art designs can only be comparable if "they are applied to the same article of manufacture identified in the claim of the patent-in-suit." The case involved Columbia Sportswear, a major manufacturer of outerwear, accusing Seirus, a cold weather gear company, of manipulating their patented heat insulation design. The court of appeals held that Seirus infringed upon Columbia's design, but through the use of their logo. This case establishes a precedent on the variations of patent and copyright infringement under an intellectual property corporate context. Prior to this ruling, there had been no clear demarcation identifying the temporality of patent and artistic infringement.
The withstanding legal history surrounding this case shines a light on what, under a legality perspective, constitutes copyright and/or patent infringement. This case generates a unique example, as the court of appeals held that the logo attached with a design patent should not be entirely disregarded as a source of contention for the consumer. As such, a legal caveat arises, analyzing where the line between patent and copyright infringement is drawn. Although both entail the unauthorized use of intellectual property, copyright infringement deals with creative works while patent infringement relies on innovation. Patents and trademarks are similar in colloquial language, yet vastly different under a legal scope. As depicted in Columbia v. Seirus (2023), Columbia has a design patent and a copyright since they utilize their design as "an ornate design that qualifies both for a patent and a work of art subjected to copyright protection."
Each federal circuit court of appeals has developed a comprehensive test, regarded as the Polaroid Factors, to determine logo and design compatibility that poses undue influence upon the consumer. Within Columbia v. Seirus (2023), the jury was informed about the resemblance between logos and the intended manufacturer design, thus swaying the jury towards the patent-holder, Columbia. The resemblance allowed for a thorough review of the Doctrine of Equivalents, which provides an avenue for infringement even if the accused product does not match the claimed purpose. Furthermore, the court postulated that infringement occurs when the article of manufacture aligns with the purpose of the duplicated product, providing situational context to existing court decisions (e.g., Curver Luxembourg, SARL v. Home Expressions Inc., No. 18-2214 (Fed. Cir. 2019)).
Although the court of appeals stipulates existing legislative guidance on the temporality of patents granted for artistic purposes, it fails to establish a normative criteria for viewing patent and copyright infringement separately. In viewing the implications of the court of appeals' decision, district courts have the discretion to allow juries to view logos and designs as one artistic product, rather than two. Further infringement cases will resort to the Columbia v. Seirus (2023) case to analyze how much knowledge about a logo or artistic product is withheld or shared with a jury. Failing to view such a product as two different entities poses greater ambiguity within disputing future infringement cases, as could be seen within future art ownership. As per future cases, one can only wait to view how infringement analyses intersect with corporations and patent approval.