Can You Patent Rounded Corners?

Apple Inc. was recently granted a design patent for the rounded corners of its iPad tablet device. Patent D670,286 specifically states that it is for “The Ornamental Design For A Portable Display Device.”  However, from the drawings submitted in connection with the patent application, it is fairly clear that the patent is intended to cover the rounded rectangular shape of the tablet’s face.

Although it may seem strange to patent the corner shape of an electronic device, U.S. patent law provides for the granting of design patents to any person who has invented any new, original and ornamental design for an article of manufacture. The subject matter of a design patent application may relate to the configuration or shape of an article, to the surface ornamentation applied to an article, or to the combination of configuration and surface ornamentation.

Unlike traditional patents, the design patent protects only the appearance of the article and not structural or utilitarian features. For instance, in this case, the rounded corners of the iPad have no effect on how the device functions.

Although the design patent is yet another weapon in Apple’s fight against rival tablets, it is important to highlight that the patent only protects Apple from those who may try to mimic the look of the iPad and not its functionality.

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