Patent law is often a lengthy and difficult enough process to go through, and that’s if everything goes smoothly. Filing for a patent is a bit of an arduous process, but that’s because it goes so far towards protecting your idea or invention from those who might want to exploit it.

But another reason the task takes so much time is that there have been many disputed and contentious arguments over patents over the years, and every time one of those arguments becomes a legal issue, adjustments have to be made to the policies of how patents work. Here are just a few of the most controversial and contentious patent cases over the last century or so.

Continental Paper Bag Co. v. Eastern Paper Bag Co. (1908)

Nothing like two paper bag companies going at it to stir up controversy, right? But as it turns out, this Supreme Court cast made some vital new patent law.

In this case, Eastern Paper Bag brought an action to prevent its competitor, called Continental Paper Bag from using Eastern’s patent for a “self-opening” paper bag. Continental Paper Bag alleged that they could do so because Eastern Paper Bag was not using its patent.

The court ruled that one does not have to use a patent for it to be valid.

Bauer & Cie. v. O’Donnell, (1913)

This case involves a water-soluble drug product called Sanatogen, the patent for which was owned by a German company called Bauer & Cie.

The O’Donnell in the case was a pharmacist who bought Sanatogen wholesale, and sold it for less than $1 per unit, which was specifically forbidden by Bauer & Cie.

Bauer & Cie suggested that this amounted to infringement of their patent, but a divided court did not, ruling that O’Donnell could continue selling it for less than a dollar.

It was one of the more contentious cases of its era, spawning multiple arguments for and against the ruling and affecting case law in a ripple effect for decades to come.

United States vs. General Electric (1926)

This case came to the Supreme Court because General Electric owned three patents that essentially covered the entire process for making lightbulbs. GE had licensed Westinghouse to use those same methods to manufacture lightbulbs, but GE also wanted to be able to set the prices at which those bulbs were sold.

The court eventually ruled that GE could do just that, price-fixing the Westinghouse bulbs however they saw fit.

General Talking Pictures Corp. v. Western Electric Co. (1938)

One of the first patent cases involving the motion picture industry, AT&T owned patents on vacuum tubes that were used in large amplifiers at movie theaters. Transformer Company sold its similar products to General Talking Pictures despite having a “field-of-use” limitation in its license of the patent from AT&T.

The Court ruled that the Transformer Company had no rights outside its licensed field, and therefore could not convey to General Talking Pictures what both knew it was not authorized to sell.”

The decision remains in effect to this day.

Illinois Tool Works Inc. v. Independent Ink, Inc.(2006)

Independent Ink distributed printer ink and related products. Trident manufactured ink-related products used in printers for printing barcodes on cardboard. Trident’s license required Independent to use Trident ink. However, it did not require end users of the bar-code printers to refill the printers with Trident ink cartridges. Trident did not, though, warranty its printer for use with others’ ink cartridges. (So what was the issue? I’m assuming it was something like Trident sued Independent to stop them from selling different ink cartridges that would fit Trident’s printers.)

The Court ruled unanimously that there is not a presumption of market power concerning the sale of a patented product being conditioned on the sale of a second product in any kind of tied-in arrangement.

You can see from these examples that court cases creating new patent law can catch a company in a bad spot, for work they’ve already done while misunderstanding, or perhaps deliberately misconstruing patent law. Remember, Pivot isn’t just about development, manufacturing and engineering. We’re about compliance, too. Click here to find out more.