What Is an Intellectual Property Rights Case Study?

A case study on intellectual property rights is an example of a real-world legal case involving intellectual property rights that can give you an idea of a how a court may rule in a particular legal scenario. Examining such studies can be valuable as it will give you some idea if your actions involving intellectual property will be deemed legal by a court of law.

Intellectual Property Rights Case Study Examples

The following are five examples of intellectual property rights cases that are illustrative of how intellectual property law may work:

  1. S. Victor Whitmill v. Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. In this case, S. Victor Whitmill, a tattoo artist, filed suit against Warner Bros. for copyright infringement due to their use of a tattoo he created for Mike Tyson, which was subsequently depicted on a fictional character in the Warner Bros. film The Hangover, Part II. Warner Bros., on the other hand, argued that their use of the tattoo was in the spirit of parody and thus was covered by Fair Use. Ultimately, Whitmill’s desire for an injunction against the release of the film was denied, and an agreement between the two parties was made out of court for undisclosed terms.
  2. National Biscuit Co. v. Kellogg Co. In this case, National Biscuit Co. filed suit against Kellogg Co. over their sale of shredded wheat cereal. According to National Biscuit Co., Kellogg’s manufacture and sale of this product constituted unfair competition and trademark violation, since the previous iteration of their company had been owned by the inventor of shredded wheat and the machinery used to make it, although the patents on both inventions had been allowed to expire. Kellogg Co. countered with the argument that National Biscuit’s suit amounted to an attempt to monopolize the market on shredded wheat. Ultimately, the US Supreme Court ruled that “shredded wheat” was not a trademarkable term and its design was a functional one, and thus free for copying since the trademark had expired.
  3. MGA Entertainment Inc. v. Mattel Inc. In this case, toymaker MGA Entertainment filed suit against Mattel, arguing that their line of “My Scene” Barbie dolls infringed upon the design of MGA’s line of "Bratz" dolls, which had a similar appearance. Mattel then countersued, claiming Carter Bryant, a designer for MGA, had designed the dolls while working for Mattel and subject to a contract that stated that all designs made while under contract would be Mattel’s property. A jury eventually ruled in Mattel’s favor, hitting MGA with a $100 million reparation to Mattel as well as an injunction (which lasted a year) to cease selling the dolls in question. However, in a later case over the same issue, the ruling went in favor of MGA, and Mattel was considered to be the one that stole trade secrets.
  4. A&M Records, Inc. v. Napster Inc. In this case, A&M Records sued the file-sharing business Napster over its website, wherein users could download music files free of charge. A&M Records claimed that this was vicarious and contributory copyright infringement, and before the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, Napster was ruled to be guilty of both counts. As a result, it was forced to shut down, as was Grokster, a file-sharing site that operated under a similar model, a few years later.
  5. Lucasfilm Ltd. v. High Frontier and Lucasfilm v. Committee for a Strong, Peaceful America. In these cases, Lucasfilm Ltd. filed suits against the public interest groups High Frontier and the Committee for a Strong, Peaceful America over their use of the term “star wars” to describe President Reagan’s Strategic Defensive Initiative, which involved space-bound missile defense. The term was born out of the popularity of the Star Wars movie franchise, and Lucasfilm did not want their product associated with a controversial, politically divisive defense policy. The court ruled that the term “star wars” could be used as long as it was not used to sell a product or service, further observing that creators of fiction had long seen their invented terms used to describe reality.

Considering these five cases as well as others may give you some idea of how courts interpret IP law. That said, each case is different, and there are many factors that go into determining a ruling, including the facts of the case, the jurisdiction of the case, and the judge or jury hearing the case, all of which could potentially yield a different result.

If you need more than a case study on intellectual property rights to help you in understanding intellectual property law, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel’s marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.