Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Patent Nonsense

Perhaps someone will think this marks me at pathetically sympathetic towards business -- not exactly anyone's darling these days -- but reading this page one story in the WSJ, my first reaction was, "What a total a-hole."
Raymond E. Stauffer was shopping at a New Jersey mall when he noticed something peculiar about the bow ties on display at Brooks Brothers: They were labeled with old patent numbers.

Mr. Stauffer, who calls himself a "sharp-dressed man," also happens to be a patent lawyer. He sued Brooks Brothers Inc. in federal court, claiming it broke the law by marking its adjustable bow ties with patents that expired in the 1950s.

He figured the retailer would have to pay a nominal amount for violating a law that bars companies from marking products with erroneous patent numbers.

A federal appellate court ruling on Tuesday breathed new life into his case by upholding his right to sue—and could pave the way for hundreds of similar suits against major companies to move forward. A separate ruling in December raised the stakes in such cases, potentially exposing product makers to huge liabilities.
I mean, if you feel strongly about the topic, write Brooks Brothers' legal department a letter. But honestly, suing them because they continued to list an expired patent on a bow tie?

And of course, this sets off a litigation gold rush:
Already, lawsuits claiming false patent markings have been brought against companies that make turkey pop-up timers, toilet plungers, fabric softener, flashlights, staplers, Frisbees, kites, telecommunications equipment, bubble gum and a toy called The Original Wooly Willy.

Defendants include companies such as Procter & Gamble, Bayer Healthcare LLC, Cisco Systems, Scientific-Atlanta, Merck & Co., Pfizer Inc., 3M Co., DirecTV, Medtronic Inc. Merck said no one was available to comment. The other companies didn't respond to requests for comment.

Marking a tube of toothpaste or paper cup with a patent that is out of date or doesn't exist has been against the law for years. It is considered anticompetitive. Until late last year, the most a violator had to worry about was paying a $500 penalty for misleading the public.

But in December, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington ruled that defendants could be held responsible for up to $500 per offense.

Lawyers for product manufacturers now fear clients are liable for up to $500 for every tube of mascara or box of garbage bags marked with an expired patent—an error that turns out to be quite common.
I mean, seriously, can we say waste of time?


Kindred Spirit said...

Can we say blatant greed? Maybe the U.S. Supreme Court will nip this in the bud: but then again, maybe not.

Kyle Cupp said...

Mr. Stauffer is right to sue. These corporations have broken the law and must pay the price for their crimes. If a few lawyers get rich, so be it. I am furious at these companies. Now excuse me while I google the word "patent" to see why I should be so offended.

Bob the Ape said...

One hopes it is simple greed driving this, rather than the thrill some get out of making a nuisance of themselves.

It also shows how difficult it is to do satire these days. Satire highlights an absurdity by exaggerating it, but the absurdity of these lawsuits is beyond exaggeration; it verges on the demonic.