71 Notorious Patent, Trademark, and Copyright Infringement Cases

Patent-related litigation made up more than half of all lawsuits filed in America last year, a forty percent increase from three years before. With so-called patent troll lawsuits on the rise in a big way, I thought it’d be a good time to highlight the interesting, funny, and little-known side of American patent, trademark, and copyright law.

A Note on Patents, Trademarks, and Copyrights

I’ve heard people misuse these three words for too long, so I thought I’d clear it up. Patents, trademarks, and copyrights are three distinct legal tools used to claim ownership in different ways. They’re also handled by different government agencies and require different methods to claim them.

  • Patents are limited-duration rights related to an invention. The US Patent and Trademark Office distributes these rights in exchange for public display of the invention.
  • Copyrights are designed to protect “works of authorship,” generally referring to works of literature, music, and art that have been “tangibly expressed.” The US Copyright Office handles the distribution of this particular right.
  • Trademarks are a bit more complicated – I’ll share with you the definition I found at the US Patent and Trade Mark Office – “a trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others.” Other forms of mark exist – a service mark is any “… word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of a service rather than goods.” Registering a trademark gives you legal ownership and the sole right to use the mark nationwide.

More on these differences can be found in our article, Trademarks, Copyrights and Patents - What's the Difference?

American patent, trademark, and copyright law is a dense and complex blend of codes and traditions that go back hundreds of years. The following twelve cases are among the most instrumental in developing our modern practice of determining ownership.

  1. The US Patent Act of 1790 - the first-ever patent statute enacted by the US government.
  2. O'Reilly vs. Morse, 1853 - finds that an abstract idea cannot be patented beyond a specific use of that idea.
  3. Gorham Company vs. White, 1871 - produced the basis of tests for design patent infringement.
  4. Schillinger vs. United States, 1894 - as a result of this case, patent infringement lawsuits cannot be brought against the federal government.
  5. The Incandescant Lamp Patent Case, 1895 - used to justify the invalidation of vague patents.
  6. Graver Tank & Manufacturing Co. v. Linde Air Products Co., 1950  - introduced the doctrine of equivalents, used in common law around the world.
  7. Aro Manufacturing Co. v. Convertible Top Replacement Co., 1961 - a pivotal case in In which the Supreme Court redefined the distinction between “repair” and “reconstruction” of a patented item.
  8. Diamond v. Chakrabarty, 1980 - was the first case to determine that a man-made living organism is a protectable manufactured good.
  9. Phillips vs. AWH, 2005 - A reference case now commonly used to decide how to interpret language in a patent.
  10. KSR vs. Teleflex, 2007 - Another reference case, used now in patent cases where the “obviousness” of a proposed invention is in question.
  11. Bowman vs. Monsanto, 2012 - A modern case reaffirming the old idea that copying a patented material and re-producing it is infringement, in this case even when the material is a seed produced by a plant grown from a patented seed.
  12. Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank International, 2014 - An important eligibility case in which a certain software product was found to be “too abstract” to be patentable.

Though it appears the US Supreme Court is finally stepping in to put an end to the most aggregious patent troll cases, infringement issues have always been and will continue to be an issue in the fields of science, business, industry, and the arts. Here are some cases currently in the courts that could end up making big changes to the law.

  1. B&B Hardware Inc. v. Hargis Industries Inc. et al. - the first trademark case being heard by the Supreme Court in over a decade.
  2. Hana Financial Inc. v. Hana Bank - a major intellectual property case related to the obscure "tacking" doctrine.
  3. Converse (multiple lawsuits against multiple companies) - Nike-owned Converse is suing at least a dozen entities for allegedly copying their sneaker designs.
  4. Google Inc. v. Oracle America Inc. - the possible end to a long and public battle over copyrights.
  5. The Authors Guild et al. v. Google Inc.- an appellate court will hear what could be the most important ruling of the year regarding copyright law.
  6. McRO Inc. v. Index Digital Media Inc. - covering the legitimacy of patent eligibility for technical innovations.
Xavier Morales, Esq.

About the Author:

Xavier Morales, Esq.

Mr. Morales founded this trademark law practice in January 2007 with the goal of providing intellectual property expertise to entrepreneurs and businesses around the country. Since then, he has filed more than 6,000 trademarks with the USPTO. You can learn more about Xavier here.

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