Famous Patent Infringement Cases

Famous patent infringement cases are found throughout history, marking important moments in the defense of intellectual property. Lawsuits related to patent infringement make up a huge portion of the lawsuits filed each year, and the number is growing.
Inventors, artists, writers, and anyone with the desire to protect his ideas can do so using any of the following legal actions:

  • Patents — distributed by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to provide temporary rights to a particular idea or invention.
  • Trademarks — distributed by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to protect any language or symbols unique to the products of a particular party or company.
  • Copyrights — distributed by the U.S. Copyright Office to protect any work or art that is "authored," such as a song, book, movie, or painting.

Historic Patent Infringement Cases

The laws and processes surrounding patent infringement have been developed over many years. In 1790, the United States enacted its first patent law.

These particular cases played a pivotal role in the laws regarding intellectual property that we have today:

  • In 1853, O'Reilly v. Morse decided that an idea alone cannot be patented, but only when it is put to use.
  • In 1894, Schillinger v. United States case established that no one can bring a patent infringement case against the U.S. government.
  • In 1895, a patent case regarding an incandescent lamp showed the need for detailed patents and invalidated any that are too vague.
  • In 1961, Manufacturing Company v. Convertible Top Replacement Company forced the courts to make a clear difference between repairing and reconstructing a patented product.
  • In 2007, KSR v. Teleflex created a need to disallow patents for obvious inventions that are not actually inventive.
  • In 2014, Alice Corporation v. CLS Bank International established that some products or ideas are too abstract to protect with a patent.

Infringement Cases in the Music Industry

The music industry is constantly in the news with copyright infringement cases. Sometimes individuals have a strong desire to protect beloved songs, or an artist doesn't appreciate a cover or parody done of his or her work.

Here are a few famous copyright infringement case rulings from the music industry:

  • A jury ruled in favor of Marvin Gaye's copyright in an infringement case against the 2013 song “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke.
  • Singer Michael Bolton had to pay almost $1 million in a copyright violation of an Isley Brothers song.
  • Rapper Vanilla Ice paid royalties to Queen and David Bowie for the opening bars of his hit, "Ice Ice Baby" to avoid a threatened copyright case.
  • Ray Parker, Jr. was accused of plagiarizing a Huey Lewis & the News song when he wrote the "Ghostbusters" theme. However, they reached a settlement.
  • Music producer Morris Levy and John Lennon settled a copyright infringement case by having Lennon record three Chuck Berry songs.
  • An ice cream shop in London was forced by Lady Gaga to stop selling Baby Gaga, an ice cream made from breast milk.

Infringement Cases in the Technology Industry

Patent infringement cases abound in the tech industry. Product development greatly overlaps across the different markets, and frequently, ideas are so abstract that cases of ownership are too complex to understand.
Here are a few famous patent cases from the tech world:

  • Amazon tried to patent its one-click payment option. However, the court decided it was too obvious an idea to patent.
  • The file-sharing company Napster settled a lawsuit accusing it of unauthorized distribution of music. It later filed bankruptcy.
  • Nintendo was forced to pay a large sum to Tomita Technologies International, Inc. for its 3DS gaming-system technology.
  • Microsoft and Google dueled for five years over patent issues involving the Xbox gaming system and Motorola smartphones.

Infringement Cases Involving Books

Some of the most beloved novels and stories have been the subject of infringement cases where writers wish to protect their creative work. Some examples of these cases are:

  • The writer who authored The "Da Vinci Code" was accused of "non-literal" copying.
  • Harper Lee filed a lawsuit against her agent for the rights to "To Kill a Mockingbird."
  • The author of "The Help" lost a lawsuit filed by her brother's maid, who claimed she was used as the basis for the main character.
  • Oprah Winfrey won a case against her filed by an author who claimed she had used lines from his book on her talk show.
  • Random House settled a lawsuit over James Frey's biography, "A Million Little Pieces," which was found to have been made up.
  • JD Salinger filed suit to prevent a publisher from releasing a sequel to his classic, "The Catcher and the Rye," which he said was unauthorized.
  • A fan created a Harry Potter lexicon and was sued for copyright infringement by the series' author J.K. Rowling.
  • Issac Newton battled throughout his life with Gottfried Leibniz over the authorship of a book, though there were no copyright laws in effect at the time.

Crazy Claims and Cases for Trademark Abuse

With many typical and standard claims reaching the courts, there are also multiple cases of both crazy infringement claims and wild defenses for cases of trademark abuse. Some examples include:

  • Both Monster and Hansen Beverage tried to claim rights to the word "monster."
  • T-Mobile tried to seek trademark protection against anyone using the color magenta.
  • "Family Feast" was the term that KFC tried to claim ownership of.
  • The game design company Edge was able to trademark every use of the word "edge" for its game titles.
  • There is a copyright for silence that is owned by composer John Cage.
  • Jay Z was involved in a lawsuit over a hand gesture.
  • CosbySweaters.com was sued by and lost a case to Bill Cosby.
  • John Waters sued Nickelodeon over its use of scratch-and-sniff cards.
  • A small furniture company was sued by Clint Eastwood over a global brand and name recognition suit.
  • A former impersonator of Miss Ukraine sued singer Carly Rae Jepson, claiming that Jepson stole lyrics from one of her songs.

Though courts try their best to control these crazy patent and infringement cases, they can and do slip through into the court system on occasion.

Some cases actually have the potential to bring about changes to how infringement cases are handled in the court system. Some of the cases currently underway that may result in changes to infringement law are:

  • B&B Hardware Inc. v. Hargis Industries Inc. et al. will be the first trademark case to make it to the Supreme Court in more than a decade.
  • Hana Financial Inc. v. Hana Bank is an intellectual property case that tackles the obscure "tacking" doctrine.
  • Converse is suing at least 12 different entities, claiming that the entities copied the design of its sneakers.
  • Google Inc. v. Oracle America might result in the end of a very long and very public legal battle over copyright use.
  • An appellate court ruling on The Authors Guild et al. v. Google Inc. might result in one of the most important copyright rulings of the year.
  • McRO Inc. v. Index Digital Media Inc. may rule on the legitimacy of patent eligibility for technical innovations.

Interesting Trademark Claims

Some trademark infringement cases might seem silly to an outsider, but they have still been considered valid in court. Here are a few odd patent infringement cases, some of which are actually founded in legitimate claims:

  • "Jersey Shore" star Nicole Polizzi tried to obtain a trademark for her nickname “Snooki," but failed.
  • Paris Hilton won a case against the greeting card company, Hallmark, for using her “That's hot” catchphrase, which she trademarked.
  • Twitter attempted to trademark its word for messages, "tweet," but failed.
  • Thanks to a trademark won by Boise State University, it is the only stadium allowed to put blue turf on its football field.
  • Facebook currently owns the simple word "face" through a trademark.
  • Donald Trump tried to own his favorite exclamation, “You're fired!” but failed.

Specifics Courts Must Look for in an Infringement Case

When deciding on the merits of an infringement case, the courts are required to look at multiple items, including:

  • The plain and ordinary meaning of the claim in view to the way the patent was used.
  • The term's meaning as based on the correspondence between the USPTO and the inventor.
  • The meaning of the term as it is found in other sources, such as expert testimony and scholarly journals.

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