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United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
November 18, 1996, Decided
[***1789] [*101] CLEVENGER, Circuit Judge.
Walter E. Durling (Durling) appeals the decision of the United States District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina that the sole claim of United States Patent No. Des. 339,243 (the '243 patent) is invalid because it is obvious under 35 U.S.C. § 103. We reverse for lack of a primary reference.
Since 1989, Durling has served as a freelance furniture designer in Tupelo, Mississippi. In the spring of 1991, the president of Global Furniture Company (Global) requested that Durling prepare a design for a low-cost sectional sofa group with a corner table and integral end tables. Durling conceived of the design shown in the '243 patent (reproduced below), the embodiment of which Global [**2] sold until it went out of business in the spring of 1992. At that time, one of Global's customers had sufficient interest in the product that it asked Spectrum Furniture Co., Inc. (Spectrum) to make furniture embodying the design. Spectrum contacted the former president of Global and received his approval to supply the product to Global's former customer.
[*102] In August 1992, Durling submitted an application for a patent on the furniture design he had provided to Global. This application matured into the '243 patent, which issued in September 1993. Shortly thereafter, Durling sued Spectrum for infringement of his patent.
At trial, Spectrum argued that the sole claim of the '243 patent was invalid as obvious in view of several prior art designs that were not considered by the examiner. Of these several references, the district court emphasized the design of a sectional group manufactured by Schweiger Furniture Industries, Inc. (the Schweiger model), reproduced below. 1
[**3] Relying heavily on Durling's concession that the Schweiger model is the "closest [***1790] prior art to the design that's involved in this case," the district court found that the differences between the prior art and the '243 patent are insignificant. Based on its further finding that Durling had not established commercial success related to the patented design, the district court concluded that the sole claim of the '243 patent is invalid as obvious under 35 U.S.C. § 103 (1994). Durling appeals from the district court's judgment, which we review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1295(a)(1) (1994).
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101 F.3d 100 *; 1996 U.S. App. LEXIS 29950 **; 40 U.S.P.Q.2D (BNA) 1788 ***; 40 U.S.P.Q. (BNA) 1788
WALTER E. DURLING, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. SPECTRUM FURNITURE COMPANY, INC., Defendant-Appellee.
Prior History: [**1] Appealed from: U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina. Judge Erwin.
patent, visual, sofa, prior art, end table, sectional, district court, appearance, impression, curves, designs, front, corner table, Furniture, invalid, verbal
Patent Law, Nonobviousness, Elements & Tests, General Overview, Originality, Joint & Sole Inventorship, Subject Matter, Design Patents, Ornamentality Requirement, Specifications, Enablement Requirement, Anticipation & Novelty, Ordinary Skill Standard, Prior Art, Civil Procedure, Judicial Officers, Judges, Governments, Courts, Authority to Adjudicate, Jurisdiction & Review, Standards of Review