MPEP 1504.01(c)
Lack of Ornamentality

This is the Ninth Edition of the MPEP, Revision 08.2017, Last Revised in January 2018

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1504.01(c)    Lack of Ornamentality [R-07.2015]

I.    FUNCTIONALITY VS. ORNAMENTALITY

An ornamental feature or design has been defined as one which was "created for the purpose of ornamenting" and cannot be the result or "merely a by-product" of functional or mechanical considerations. See In re Carletti, 328 F.2d 1020, 140 USPQ 653, 654 (CCPA 1964); Blisscraft of Hollywood v. United Plastic Co., 189 F. Supp. 333, 337, 127 USPQ 452, 454 (S.D.N.Y. 1960), aff’d, 294 F.2d 694, 131 USPQ 55 (2d Cir. 1961). It is clear that the ornamentality of the article must be the result of a conscious act by the inventor, as 35 U.S.C. 171 requires that a patent for a design be given only to "whoever invents any new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture." Therefore, for a design to be ornamental within the requirements of 35 U.S.C. 171, it must be "created for the purpose of ornamenting." See In re Carletti, 328 F.2d 1020, 1022, 140 USPQ 653, 654 (CCPA 1964).

To be patentable, a design must be "primarily ornamental." "In determining whether a design is primarily functional or primarily ornamental the claimed design is viewed in its entirety, for the ultimate question is not the functional or decorative aspect of each separate feature, but the overall appearance of the article, in determining whether the claimed design is dictated by the utilitarian purpose of the article." See L. A. Gear Inc. v. Thom McAn Shoe Co., 988 F.2d 1117, 1123, 25 USPQ2d 1913, 1917 (Fed. Cir. 1993). The court in Norco Products, Inc. v. Mecca Development, Inc., 617 F.Supp. 1079, 1080, 227 USPQ 724, 725 (D. Conn. 1985), held that a "primarily functional invention is not patentable" as a design.

A determination of ornamentality is not a quantitative analysis based on the size of the ornamental feature or features but rather a determination based on their ornamental contribution to the design as a whole.

While ornamentality must be based on the entire design, "[i]n determining whether a design is primarily functional, the purposes of the particular elements of the design necessarily must be considered." See Power Controls Corp. v. Hybrinetics, Inc., 806 F.2d 234, 240, 231 USPQ 774, 778 (Fed. Cir. 1986). See, e.g., Smith v. M & B Sales & Manufacturing, 13 USPQ2d 2002, 2004 (N. D. Cal. 1990) (if "significant decisions about how to put it [the item] together and present it in the marketplace were informed by primarily ornamental considerations", this information may establish the ornamentality of a design.).

"However, a distinction exists between the functionality of an article or features thereof and the functionality of the particular design of such article or features thereof that perform a function." See Avia Group International Inc. v. L. A. Gear California Inc., 853 F.2d 1557, 1563, 7 USPQ2d 1548, 1553 (Fed. Cir. 1988). The distinction must be maintained between the ornamental design and the article in which the design is embodied. The design for the article cannot be assumed to lack ornamentality merely because the article of manufacture would seem to be primarily functional.

II.    ESTABLISHING A PRIMA FACIE BASIS FOR REJECTIONS UNDER 35 U.S.C. 171

To properly reject a claimed design under 35 U.S.C. 171 on the basis of a lack of ornamentality, an examiner must make a prima facie showing that the claimed design lacks ornamentality and provide a sufficient evidentiary basis for factual assumptions relied upon in such showing. See In re Jung, 98 USPQ2d 1174, 1177 (Fed. Cir. 2011). See, e.g., In re Oetiker, 977 F.2d 1443, 1445, 24 USPQ2d 1443, 1444 (Fed. Cir. 1992), ("the examiner bears the initial burden, on review of the prior art or on any other ground, of presenting a prima facie case of unpatentability.").

The proper evidentiary basis for a rejection under 35 U.S.C. 171 that a claim is lacking in ornamentality is an evaluation of the appearance of the design itself. The examiner’s knowledge of the art, a reply to a letter of inquiry, a brochure emphasizing the functional/mechanical features of the design, the specification of an analogous utility patent (the applicant’s or another inventor), or information provided in the specification may be used to supplement the analysis of the design. If a design is embodied in a specific mechanical article, the analysis that the design lacks ornamentality because its appearance is dictated by functional requirements should be supported by reference to utility patents or some other source of information about the function of the design. If the design is embodied in an article that has a more general use, such as a clip, the analysis and explanation as to why the design lacks ornamentality should be detailed and specific. The examiner’s contention that the specific appearance of the claimed design lacks ornamentality may be supported by In re Carletti et al., 328 F.2d 1020, 140 USPQ 653 (CCPA 1964) (a design to be patentable must be "created for the purpose of ornamenting" the article in which it is embodied.). The presence or lack of ornamentality must be made on a case by case basis.

Knowledge that the article would be hidden during its end use based on the examiner’s experience in a given art or information that may have been submitted in the application itself would not be considered prima facie evidence of the functional nature of the design. See Seiko Epson Corp v. Nu-Kote Int’l Inc., 190 F.3d 1360, 52 USPQ2d 1011 (Fed. Cir. 1999). "Visibility during an article’s ‘normal use’ is not a statutory requirement of § 1.1, but rather a guideline for courts to employ in determining whether the patented features are ‘ornamental’." See Larson v. Classic Corp., 683 F. Supp. 1202, 7 USPQ2d 1747 (N.D. Ill. 1988). If there is sufficient evidence to show that a specific design "is clearly intended to be noticed during the process of sale and equally clearly intended to be completely hidden from view in the final use," it is not necessary that a rejection be made under 35 U.S.C. 171. See In re Webb, 916 F.2d 1553, 1558, 16 USPQ2d 1433, 1436 (Fed. Cir. 1990). The mere fact that an article would be hidden during its ultimate end use is not the basis for a rejection under 35 U.S.C. 171, but this information provides additional evidence to be used in support of the contention that the design lacks ornamentality. The only basis for rejecting a claim under 35 U.S.C. 171 as lacking in ornamentality is an evaluation of the design itself in light of additional information, such as that identified above.

Examples of proper evidentiary basis for a rejection under 35 U.S.C. 171 that a claim is lacking in ornamentality would be: (A) common knowledge in the art; (B) the appearance of the design itself; (C) the specification of a related utility patent; or (D) information provided in the specification.

A rejection under 35 U.S.C. 171 for lack of ornamentality must be supported by evidence and rejections should not be made in the absence of such evidence.

III.    REJECTIONS MADE UNDER 35 U.S.C. 171

Rejections under 35 U.S.C. 171 for lack of ornamentality based on a proper prima facie showing fall into two categories:

  • (A) a design visible in its ultimate end use which is primarily functional based on the evidence of record; or
  • (B) a design not visible in its normal and intended use as evidence that its appearance is not a matter of concern. See In re Stevens, 173 F.2d 1015, 81 USPQ 362 (CCPA 1949); In re Webb, 916 F.2d 1553, 1558, 16 USPQ2d 1433, 1436 (Fed. Cir. 1990).

When the examiner has established a proper prima facie case of lack of ornamentality, "the burden of coming forward with evidence or argument shifts to the applicant." See In re Oetiker, 977 F.2d 1443, 1445, 24 USPQ2d 1443, 1444 (Fed. Cir. 1992). A rejection under 35 U.S.C. 171 for lack of ornamentality may be overcome by providing evidence from the inventor himself or a representative of the company that commissioned the design that there was an intent to create a design for the "purpose of ornamenting." See In re Carletti, 328 F.2d 1020, 1022, 140 USPQ 653, 654 (CCPA 1964). Attorney’s arguments are not a substitute for evidence. Once a proper prima facie case of lack of ornamentality is established by the examiner, it is incumbent upon applicant to come forth with countervailing evidence to rebut the rejection made by the examiner. See Ex parte Webb, 30 USPQ2d 1064, 1067-68 (Bd. Pat. App. & Int. 1993). Form paragraph 15.08 or 15.08.01, where appropriate, may be used to reject a claim under 35 U.S.C. 171 for lack of ornamentality.

¶ 15.08    Lack of Ornamentality (Article Visible in End Use)

The claim is rejected under 35 U.S.C. 171 as being directed to nonstatutory subject matter in that it lacks ornamentality. To be patentable, a design must be "created for the purpose of ornamenting" the article in which it is embodied. See In re Carletti, 328 F.2d 1020, 140 USPQ 653 (CCPA 1964).

The following evidence establishes a prima facie case of a lack of ornamentality: [1]

Evidence that demonstrates the design is ornamental may be submitted from the applicant in the form of an affidavit or declaration under 37 CFR 1.132:

(a) stating the ornamental considerations which entered into the design of the article; and

(b) identifying what aspects of the design meet those considerations.

An affidavit or declaration under 37 CFR 1.132 may also be submitted from a representative of the company, which commissioned the design, to establish the ornamentality of the design by stating the motivating factors behind the creation of the design.

Attorney arguments are not a substitute for evidence to establish the ornamentality of the claim. Ex parte Webb, 30 USPQ2d 1064, 1067-68 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1993).

Examiner Note:

In bracket 1, insert source of evidence of lack of ornamentality, for example, a utility patent, a brochure, a response to a letter of inquiry, etc.

¶ 15.08.01    Lack of Ornamentality (Article Not Visible in its Normal and Intended Use)

The claim is rejected under 35 U.S.C. 171 as being directed to nonstatutory subject matter in that the design lacks ornamentality since it appears there is no period in the commercial life of applicant’s [1] when its ornamentality may be a matter of concern. In re Webb, 916 F.2d 1553, 1558, 16 USPQ2d 1433, 1436 (Fed. Cir. 1990); In re Stevens, 173 F.2d 1015, 81 USPQ 362 (CCPA 1949).

The following evidence establishes a prima facie case of lack of ornamentality: [2]

In order to overcome this rejection, two types of evidence are needed:

(1) Evidence to demonstrate there is some period in the commercial life of the article embodying the claimed design when its ornamentality is a matter of concern. Such evidence may include a showing of a period in the life of the design when the ornamentality of the article may be a matter of concern to a purchaser during the process of sale. An example of this type of evidence is a sample of sales literature such as an advertisement or a catalog sheet which presents the appearance of the article as ornamental and not merely as a means of identification or instruction; and

(2) Evidence to demonstrate the design is ornamental. This type of evidence should demonstrate "thought of ornament" in the design and should be presented in the form of an affidavit or declaration under 37 CFR 1.132 from the applicant:

(a) stating the ornamental considerations which entered into the design of the article; and

(b) identifying what aspects of the design meet those considerations.

An affidavit or declaration under 37 CFR 1.132 may also be submitted from a representative of the company, which commissioned the design, to establish the ornamentality of the design by stating the motivating factors behind the creation of the design.

Attorney arguments are not a substitute for evidence to establish the ornamentality of the claim. See Ex parte Webb, 30 USPQ2d 1064, 1067-68 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1993).

Examiner Note:

1. In bracket 1, insert the name of the article in which the design is embodied.

2. In bracket 2, insert source of evidence of the article’s design being of no concern, for example, an analysis of a corresponding utility patent, a brochure, a response to a letter of inquiry, etc.

IV.    OVERCOMING A 35 U.S.C. 171 REJECTION BASED ON LACK OF ORNAMENTALITY

A rejection under 35 U.S.C. 171 based on lack of ornamentality may be overcome by the following:

  • (A) An affidavit or declaration under 37 CFR 1.132 submitted from the applicant or a representative of the company, which commissioned the design, explaining specifically and in depth, which features or area of the claimed design were created with:
    • (1) a concern for enhancing the saleable value or increasing demand for the article. See Gorham Manufacturing Co. v. White, 81 U.S. (14 Wall) 511 (1871), or
    • (2) a concern primarily for the esthetic appearance of the article;
  • (B) Advertisements which emphasize the ornamentality of the article embodying the claimed design may be submitted as evidence to rebut the rejection. See Berry Sterling Corp. v. Pescor Plastics Inc., 122 F.3d 1452, 43 USPQ2d 1953 (Fed. Cir. 1997);
  • (C) Evidence that the appearance of the design is ornamental may be shown by distinctness from the prior art as well as an attempt to develop or to maintain consumer recognition of the article embodying the design. See Seiko Epson Corp. v. Nu-Kote Int’l Inc., 190 F.3d 1360, 52 USPQ2d 1011 (Fed. Cir. 1999);
  • (D) Evidence may be provided by a representative of the company, which commissioned the design, to establish the ornamentality of the design by stating the motivating factors behind the creation of the design;
  • (E) When the rejection asserts that the design is purely dictated by functional considerations, evidence may be presented showing possible alternative designs which could have served the same function indicating that the appearance of the claimed design was not purely dictated by function. See L.A. Gear Inc. v. Thom McAn Shoe Co., 988 F.2d 1117, 25 USPQ2d 1913 (Fed. Cir. 1993);
  • (F) When the rejection asserts no period in the commercial life of the article when its ornamentality may be a matter of concern, the applicant must establish that the "article’s design is a ‘matter of concern’ because of the nature of its visibility at some point between its manufacture or assembly and its ultimate use." See In re Webb, 916 F.2d 1553, 1558, 16 USPQ2d 1433, 1436 (Fed. Cir. 1990).

Attorney arguments are not a substitute for evidence to establish the ornamentality of the claim. See Ex parte Webb, 30 USPQ2d 1064, 1068 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1993).

V.    EVALUATION OF EVIDENCE SUBMITTED TO OVERCOME A REJECTION UNDER 35 U.S.C. 171

In order to overcome a rejection of the claim under 35 U.S.C. 171 as lacking in ornamentality, applicant must provide evidence that he or she created the design claimed for the "purpose of ornamenting". See In re Carletti, 328 F.2d 1020, 1022, 140 USPQ 653, 654 (CCPA 1964).

The mere display of the article embodying the design at trade shows or its inclusion in catalogs is insufficient to establish ornamentality. See Ex parte Webb, 30 USPQ2d 1064 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1993). There must be some clear and specific indication of the ornamentality of the design in this evidence for it to be given probative weight in overcoming the prima facie lack of ornamentality. See Berry Sterling Corp. v. Pescor Plastics Inc., 122 F.3d 1452, 43 USPQ2d 1953 (Fed. Cir. 1997).

The examiner must evaluate evidence submitted by the applicant in light of the design as a whole to decide if the claim is primarily ornamental. It is important to be aware that this determination is not based on the size or amount of the features identified as ornamental but rather on their influence on the overall appearance of the design.

In a rejection of a claim under 35 U.S.C. 171 in which some of the evidentiary basis for the rejection is that the design would be hidden during its end use, the applicant must establish that the "article’s design is a ‘matter of concern’ because of the nature of its visibility at some point between its manufacture or assembly and its ultimate use." See In re Webb, 916 F.2d 1553, 1558, 16 USPQ2d 1433, 1436 (Fed. Cir. 1990). This concern may be shown by the submission of evidence that the appearance of the article was of concern during its period of commercial life by declarations from prospective/actual customers/users attesting that the ornamentality of the article was of concern to them. Unless applicant is directly involved with the sale of the design or works with users of the design, he or she cannot provide factual evidence as to the reasons for the purchase/selection of the article embodying the design. See MPEP § 716.03(b), citing In re Huang, 100 F.3d 135, 140 (Fed. Cir. 1996). In ex parte proceedings before the Patent and Trademark Office, an applicant must show that the claimed features were responsible for the commercial success of an article if the evidence of nonobviousness is to be accorded substantial weight. See In re Huang, 100 F.3d 135, 140, 40 USPQ2d 1685, 1690 (Fed. Cir. 1996) (Inventor’s opinion as to the purchaser’s reason for buying the product is insufficient to demonstrate a nexus between the sales and the claimed invention.).

Once applicant has proven that there is a period of visibility during which the ornamentality of the design is a "matter of concern," it is then necessary to determine whether the claimed design was primarily ornamental during that period. See Larson v. Classic Corp., 683 F. Supp. 1202, 7 USPQ2d 1747 (N. D. Ill. 1988). The fact that a design would be visible during its commercial life is not sufficient evidence that the design was "created for the purpose of ornamenting". See In re Carletti, 328 F.2d 1020, 1022, 140 USPQ 653, 654 (CCPA 1964). Examiners should follow the standard for determining ornamentality as outlined above.

"The possibility of encasing a heretofore concealed design element in a transparent cover for no reason other than to avoid this rule cannot avoid the visibility [guideline]..., lest it become meaningless." See Norco Products Inc. v. Mecca Development Inc., 617 F. Supp. 1079, 1081, 227 USPQ 724, 726 (D. Conn. 1985). Applicant cannot rely on mere possibilities to provide factual evidence of ornamentality for the claimed design.

The requirement that the design was created for the ‘purpose of ornamenting’ must be met with appropriate evidence concerning visibility for a rejection under 35 U.S.C. 171 to be overcome if the design would be hidden during its end use. See In re Webb, 916 F.2d 1553 (Fed. Cir. 1990).