This case, originally filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan on claims of patent infringement, was brought on appeal in the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. The Court of Appeals issued an opinion affirming the district court’s summary judgment in favor of Defendant-Appellee, Ford Global Technologies, LLC (“Ford”), and against Plaintiff-Appellant, Automotive Body Parts Association (“Automotive”). The originally sealed opinion was issued on July 11, 2019 but was unsealed in full on July 23, 2019.
Ford owns U.S. Patent No. D489,299 (the “D’299 Patent”) and U.S. Patent No. D501,685 (the “D’685 Patent”) for “Exterior of Vehicle Hood” and “Vehicle Head Lamp”, respectively. These design patents were invented by artists that allegedly selected part designs for the Ford F-150 truck on based on aesthetic appearance alone and not a functional purpose. Automotive is comprised of a group of companies that distribute automotive parts.
Conflict between Automotive and Ford allegedly occurred when Ford accused several Automotive members of infringing the D’299 and D’685 Patents, among others, before the International Trade Commission (“ITC”). The administrative law judge in the ITC proceedings ruled that “‘respondents’ [invalidity] defense that the asserted patents do not comply with the ornamentality requirement of 35 U.S.C. § 171 has no basis in the law’ and that ‘there is no legal basis for respondents’ assertion of [unenforceability based on] either the patent exhaustion or permissible repair doctrines’”. The ITC action settled after the administrative law judge’s ruling.