Star Athletica's Fissure in the Intellectual Property Functionality Landscape
Special Online Symposium Issue, 166 University of Pennsylvania Law Review Online, Forthcoming
11 Pages Posted: 14 Sep 2017 Last revised: 28 Oct 2017
Date Written: September 12, 2017
This article comments on the Supreme Court’s 2017 Star Athletica v. Varsity Brands decision addressing copyright’s useful article doctrine. It shows that the majority’s analysis mistakenly lends credence to the notion that copyright protection can extend to functional elements of useful articles so long as pictorial, graphic, or sculptural features can be fixed in some other tangible medium. Of perhaps greater concern, Justice Breyer’s dissenting opinion confuses the intellectual property landscape by suggesting, erroneously, that design patents can protect functional features of articles of manufacture. The article advises lower courts to disregard the unsubstantiated dicta in Star Athletica and instead look to statutory requirements and limitations, legislative guidance, and the foundational principles undergirding the intellectual property system so as to avoid creating “mutant species” of intellectual property: protection for functional features of useful articles outside the auspices of the utility patent system.
Keywords: Copyright, Design Patent, Patent, Useful Article
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