Best Practices for Design Patents- Use of Solid vs. Broken (Phantom) Lines

By Debby Winters

As we already discussed in this series of blog posts about design patents, the solid lines in the figures of a design patent application function to define the scope of the invention. Broken (sometimes called phantom) lines may be used to show the environment in which the article is used, but do not form a part of the invention. Therefore, if a product includes all the features shown in solid lines in a design patent, but not the features shown in broken lines, that product still infringes that design patent. Similarly, if a prior art reference shows the features in solid lines but not the broken lines of a design, that prior art reference can still anticipate the design patent application. An application that includes broken lines should include a paragraph in the specification indicating that the broken lines are for illustrative purposes only and form no part of the claimed design.

In addition, broken lines may be used to broaden the scope of the design patent in a continuation application. For example, a continuation application may convert originally disclosed solid line structure to broken lines. Since it is the solid lines that function to define the scope of the invention, replacing solid lines with broken lines necessarily broadens the scope of the design patent. Again, the importance of using an experienced draftsperson cannot be overemphasized.

Best Practices for Design Patents- Figure Views Should be Consistent

By Debby Winters

Many rejections received by applicants during the prosecution of a design patent application involve inconsistencies in the drawings. Design patents require a sufficient number of views to completely disclose the appearance of the invention. Most design patents require seven (7) views of the invention – front, rear, top, bottom, right side, left side, and at least one perspective view. These views must be consistent with each other so a full understanding of the design can be reached. Elements shown in each figure should be shown in all others, assuming that the element can be seen in that particular view. Solid and broken lines should be consistent as well. This is one reason it is critical to have a draftsperson who is experienced at design patent drawings.

Best Practices for Design Patents-Drawing Quality is Key

By Debby Winters

As mentioned last time, design patents protect only the ornamental characteristics of the design, which are the features shown in solid lines in the figures of the design patent application. Therefore, good quality drawings are essential, as they define the bounds of what exactly is protected. The design patent Examiner will require good quality drawings in order to grant the patent, but the quality of the drawings will also be important down the road if and when the scope of the patent is determined and the particular design being protected is interpreted. Use of a draftsperson that is familiar with the drawing requirements associated with design applications is essential. I often have engineers ask if they can prepare their own drawings. I allow this with utility applications but I required an experienced design patent draftsperson who has experience with design patents.

Best Practices for Design Patents- Know the Subject Matter Qualifications

By Debby Winters

A design patent protects the visual ornamental characteristics of an invention. A common misconception is that if there is any utility to the invention, a design patent is not available to cover the subject matter of that invention. However, this is not always the case. If the product is functional but also includes features that are purely ornamental, a design patent may be obtained on those specific ornamental features. The question to ask is: what is unique? Is it the look of the invention, or only the function? If the design of the invention is dictated by function and lacks ornamentality, then a design patent would not be appropriate. However, if only the look of the invention is unique, or if both the look and function are unique, then a design patent may be appropriate.

Additionally, any time neither a utility or design patent are appropriate, always consider whether trade dress is appropriate.

Modernizing Copyright Registration

The US Copyright Office (a branch of the Library of Congress) has published a Federal Register notice seeking comments on ways to improve (“modernize”) its copyright registration system:

The U.S. Copyright Office is building a new registration system to meet the demands of the digital age. As the Office develops a new technological infrastructure for this system, it is considering several legal and policy changes to improve user experience, increase Office efficiency, and decrease processing times. The Office is seeking public comment to inform its decisions on how to improve the regulations and practices related to the registration of copyright claims.

Some of the intended improvements include: better application tracking; improved user interface for electronic deposits; improved messaging system; and allowing users to view a draft registration certificate before final submission. Public comments due by January 15, 2019.

View the notice: NOTICE AND REQUEST FOR COMMENTS

Social Security Benefits to Increase in 2019

man and woman on balcony outside smiling Each year we announce the annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA). Usually there is an increase in the Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefit amount people receive each month, starting the following January. By law, federal benefits increase when the cost of living rises, as measured by the Department of Labor’s Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W).

The CPI-W rises when prices increase for the things the average consumer buys. This means that when prices for goods and services we purchase become more expensive, on average, the COLA increases monthly benefit levels and helps you keep up with the changing cost of living.

As a result, more than 67 million Americans will see a 2.8 percent increase in their Social Security and SSI benefits in 2019.

January 2019 marks other changes that will happen based on the increase in the national average wage index. For example, the maximum amount of earnings subject to Social Security payroll tax, as well as the retirement earnings test exempt amount, will change in 2019.

Want to know your new benefit amount as soon as possible? In December 2018, we will post Social Security COLA notices online for retirement, survivors, and disability beneficiaries who have a my Social Security account. You will be able to view and save these COLA notices securely via the Message Center inside mySocial Security.

Be the first to know! Sign up for or log in to your personal my Social Security account today and choose email or text under “Message Center Preferences” to receive courtesy notifications so you won’t miss your electronic COLA notice!

This year, you will still receive your COLA notice by mail. In the future, you will be able to choose whether you receive your notice online instead of on paper. Online notices will not be available to representative payees, individuals with foreign mailing addresses, or those who pay higher Medicare premiums due to their income. We plan to expand the availability of COLA notices to additional online customers in the future.

You can find more information about the 2019 COLA here.

Get Ready for Taxes: Learn how the new tax law affects tax returns next year

WASHINGTON –The Internal Revenue Service today advised taxpayers about steps they can take now to ensure smooth processing of their 2018 tax return and avoid surprises when they file next year.

This is the first in a series of reminders to help taxpayers get ready for the upcoming tax filing season. Additionally, the IRS has recently updated a special page on its website with steps to take now for the 2019 tax filing season.

New IRS Publication 5307 helps individuals understand Tax Cuts and Jobs Act

Major tax reform that affects both individuals and businesses was approved by Congress and signed by the President on Dec. 22, 2017. It’s commonly referred to as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, or TCJA, or tax reform. Throughout 2018, the IRS has been working closely with partners in the tax return preparation and tax software industries to implement the new law and ensure taxpayers can count on the IRS, tax professionals and tax software programs when it’s time to file their returns. Now there is a new publication that will help taxpayers learn how tax reform affects their taxes. IRS Publication 5307, Tax Reform Basics for Individuals and Families, is now available on IRS.gov/getready. While the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act law includes tax changes for individuals and businesses, this publication breaks down what’s new for the 2018 federal tax return individual taxpayers will be filing in 2019.

This new publication provides important information about:

  • increasing the standard deduction,
  • suspending personal exemptions,
  • increasing the child tax credit,
  • adding a new credit for other dependents and
  • limiting or discontinuing certain deductions.

Taxpayers can access Publication 5307 at IRS.gov/getready, along with other important information about steps taxpayers can take now to ensure smooth processing of their 2018 tax return and avoid surprises when they file next year.

Because of the many changes in the tax law, refunds may be different than prior years for some taxpayers. Some may even owe an unexpected tax bill when they file their 2018 tax return next year. To avoid these kind of surprises, taxpayers should perform a Paycheck Checkup to help determine if they need to adjust their withholding or make estimated or additional tax payments now.

Gather documents

The IRS urges all taxpayers to file a complete and accurate tax return by making sure they have all the needed documents before they file their return, including their 2017 tax return. This includes year-end Forms W-2 from employers, Forms 1099 from banks and other payers, and Forms 1095-A from the Marketplace for those claiming the Premium Tax Credit. Confirm that each employer, bank or other payer has a current mailing address for you. Typically, these forms start arriving by mail in January. Check them over carefully, and if any of the information shown is inaccurate, contact the payer right away for a correction.

To avoid refund delays, taxpayers should avoid using incomplete records and instead wait to file until they have gathered all year-end income documentation. This will minimize the chances they will need to file an amended return later which is extra work for taxpayers and can take up to 16 weeks to process once the IRS receives it.

Taxpayers should keep a copy of any filed tax return and all supporting documents for a minimum of three years. Having your prior year return will make it easier to fill out your 2018 tax return next year. In addition, taxpayers using a software product for the first time may need the Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) amount from their 2017 return to properly e-file their 2018 return. Learn more about verifying identity and electronically signing a return at Validating Your Electronically Filed Tax Return.

For a faster refund, choose e-file

Electronically filing a tax return is the most accurate way to prepare and file. Errors delay refunds and the easiest way to avoid them is to e-file. Using tax preparation software is the best and simplest way to file a complete and accurate tax return. The software guides taxpayers through the process and does all the math. The IRS is working with the tax community to incorporate the tax law changes and form updates. Nearly 90 percent of all returns are electronically filed.

There are several e-file options:

Use Direct Deposit

Combining Direct Deposit with electronic filing is the fastest way for a taxpayer to get their refund. With Direct Deposit, a refund goes directly into a taxpayer’s bank account. There’s no reason to worry about a lost, stolen or undeliverable refund check. This is the same electronic transfer system now used to deposit nearly 98 percent of all Social Security and Veterans Affairs benefits. Nearly four out of five federal tax refunds are Direct Deposited.

Direct Deposit also saves taxpayer dollars. It costs the nation’s taxpayers more than $1 for every paper refund check issued but only a dime for each Direct Deposit.

Renew expiring ITINs

Some people with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) may need to renew it before the end of the year. Doing so promptly will avoid a refund delay and possible loss of key tax benefits.

Any ITIN not used on a federal tax return in the past three years will expire on Dec. 31, 2018. Similarly, any ITIN with middle digits 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 81 or 82 will also expire at the end of the year. Anyone with an expiring ITIN who plans to file a return in 2019 will need to renew it using Form W-7.

Once a completed form is filed, it typically takes about seven weeks to receive an ITIN assignment letter from the IRS. But it can take longer — nine to 11 weeks — if an applicant waits until the peak of the filing season to submit this form or sends it from overseas. Taxpayers should take action now to avoid delays.

Taxpayers who fail to renew an ITIN before filing a tax return next year could face a delayed refund and may be ineligible for certain tax credits. For more information, visit the ITIN information page on IRS.gov.

Refunds held for those claiming EITC or ACTC until mid-February

By law, the IRS cannot issue refunds for people claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC) before mid-February. The law requires the IRS to hold the entire refund — even the portion not associated with EITC or ACTC. This law change, which took effect at the beginning of 2017, helps ensure that taxpayers receive the refund they’re due by giving the IRS more time to detect and prevent fraud.

As always, the IRS cautions taxpayers not to rely on getting a refund by a certain date, especially when making major purchases or paying bills. Be aware that some returns may require additional review for a variety of reasons and may take longer. For example, the IRS, along with its partners in the state’s and the nation’s tax industry, continue to strengthen security reviews to help protect against identity theft and refund fraud.