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UGG boot battle highlights design patent law

There are several well-known laws protecting Colorado entrepreneurs from intellectual property infringements. Common protections include copyright and trademark laws. However, two recent cases have highlighted a more obscure intellectual property protection: the design patent.

In July, Apple and Samsung finally settled a years-long battle over design patents for their smartphones. Meanwhile, Decker Outdoor Corporation, the maker of UGG boots, recently used design patent laws to sue Romeo & Juliette, a rival shoemaker that was accused of making UGG knockoffs.

One of the quirks of copyright law is that it dismisses the shape and silhouette of footwear and other fashion items. This makes it more difficult for companies to protect their designs. However, as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in the Apple case, a design patent protects "new, original and ornamental" designs for a manufactured product that give it a "peculiar or distinctive appearance." Romeo & Juliette argued its boots were only similar to UGGs in the "obvious" ways that all boots are similar to each other. However, Decker was able to convince a jury that no previous boot designs, known as "prior art" in patent design cases, looked like UGGs until its design hit the market in the early 2000s. While Decker won this round, the fight is not over. R&J has filed an appeal before the 9th Circuit Court.

Intellectual property litigation can be complex and protracted. Companies with trademark issues or other legal concerns associated with growing a business could work with an intellectual property attorney to find effective solutions. The attorney could review the situation and develop strategies to protect a company's original designs from infringement.

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