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Patents The Courts Your Rights Online

"Patent Markings" Lawsuits Could Run Into the Trillions 193

bizwriter writes "The latest legal bugaboo facing manufacturers is the false patent marking suit. Using what has been until recently an obscure type of legal action, individuals and enterprising law firms have targeted large manufacturers with lawsuits that can easily run million of dollars — in a case involving a drink cup manufacturer, over $10 trillion — for incorrectly including patent numbers on products. Some companies named in such suits are 3M, Cisco, Pfizer, Monster Cable, and Merck. Even expired patent numbers can be actionable." Sounds like a perfect opportunity for some enlightened appeals court to inject some sense into the debate. What do you think the chances are? Note: if ever there were a page that cries out for the Readability bookmarklet, this is it.
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"Patent Markings" Lawsuits Could Run Into the Trillions

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  • by John Hasler ( 414242 ) on Monday March 01, 2010 @08:09PM (#31324496) Homepage

    > The problem for companies is that they might have lost track of what patents
    > cover a given product, or might have forgotten to update packaging to remove
    > numbers of patents that had expired.

    Don't "lose track". Don't "forget". Or don't mark (it isn't required). Problem solved.

  • Silly editor (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 01, 2010 @08:09PM (#31324500)
    Why is it that editors around here seem to think that laws are made by the courts? This one is a great example - saying it is an opportunity for the Federal Appeals court to do something. Like what? They get to rule based on law. If we need the law changed, the court can't do that - it needs to go to the legislative branch for that.
  • Still... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 01, 2010 @08:10PM (#31324510)

    I still say Monster Cable deserves to be sued to bankrupcy. Same with Best Buy (Worst Buy) and Microsoft.

  • Re:Copyrights (Score:5, Insightful)

    by peipas ( 809350 ) on Monday March 01, 2010 @08:12PM (#31324548)

    Exactly. I'd like to see those NFL motherfuckers pay some coin for "prohibiting" descriptions of games they broadcast.

  • by John Hasler ( 414242 ) on Monday March 01, 2010 @08:13PM (#31324554) Homepage

    > Sounds like a perfect opportunity for some enlightened appeals court to
    > inject some sense into the debate.

    No, it's a perfect opportunity for an enlightened Congress to correct the law. Oh. Wait...

  • Monster Cable? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 01, 2010 @08:17PM (#31324612)

    You mean you can patent snake oil?

    Wikipedia entry," In one experiment, audiophile listeners could not distinguish between short Monster cables and ordinary coat hangers.[8] Another reviewer concluded that "16-gauge lamp cord and Monster [speaker] cable are indistinguishable from each other with music."[9]

  • by lennier ( 44736 ) on Monday March 01, 2010 @08:19PM (#31324626) Homepage

    From the article, these are suits against companies claiming patent protection on products when they don't in fact have it.

    That's the opposite of claiming patent protection for something you don't have rights to, ie, patent trolling.

  • Not so bad.... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Improv ( 2467 ) <pgunn01@gmail.com> on Monday March 01, 2010 @08:29PM (#31324698) Homepage Journal

    I have no sympathy with those who claim intellectual property - sure, these lawsuits are filed by scum, but they're filed against people who claim to own ideas. I hope these are long, plentiful, painful lawsuits for both sides.

  • by Manfre ( 631065 ) on Monday March 01, 2010 @08:33PM (#31324732) Homepage Journal

    You can sue anyone for anything. Doesn't mean you'll win.

  • by martin-boundary ( 547041 ) on Monday March 01, 2010 @08:36PM (#31324756)
    I don't see what's objectionable here?

    If a company falsely labels its products with imaginary patent numbers, they deserve to be sued into oblivion. It's outright lying to the public, and an attempt at intimidating would-be competitors. It's wrong and should be punished harshly.

    Patents are overused as is, and one of the reasons they are often misused (eg against open source) is because it's easy and relatively risk free. If the costs of misuse can be increased dramatically, many companies may think twice before doing it.

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Monday March 01, 2010 @08:57PM (#31324946) Journal
    Since the premise of the whole thing is that the plaintiff is a friend of "our Lord the King" or the US Government and the defendant submitted false claims to it, and the plaintiff is not personally harmed, there is no need to award the plaintiff any damages. Problems solved, just rule that any damages awarded will go to the aggrieved party, or the US government in this case. Once the lawyers know they are not going to be getting a piece of the award, they will go find some one else to screw^h^h^h^h^h sue.
  • Re:How about.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JaredOfEuropa ( 526365 ) on Monday March 01, 2010 @08:59PM (#31324962) Journal
    How about reforming the law to do away with the moronic idea of awarding "punitive damages", or whatever it is called in cases like these, to claimants? In some countries, like the one I live in, payments to claimants are pretty much limited to actual damages and legal fees, maybe with a small bit added on top for things like mental anguish or redress. That lady who sued McDonalds over scalding coffee should at most have gotten her medical and legals bills refunded, with perhaps a couple thousand thrown in for her trouble. That's what she'd get over here (and if I remember correctly, that's what she originally sued McD for). Make no mistake though, actual damages in case of severe injuries can run into millions as well... but we do not reward people for a bit of bad luck or for finding some obscure legal technicality that does not affect anyone. Slipping on the pavement in front of a fancy restaurant should not turn into a windfall, neither should this new form of patent trolling.

    If a claimant can prove actual damages caused by improper patent marking, then by all means should they be able to sue for these damages. And if another company has been naughty and put incorrect markings on their products, they should received reasonable punishment. Some of these amounts sound excessive, and in any case, they should be treated as fines and go to the state, not to some random claimant.
  • by Whuffo ( 1043790 ) on Monday March 01, 2010 @09:07PM (#31325030) Homepage Journal

    That's what us old-timers call fraud. It's not OK, no matter how the apologists here may try to spin it. Yes, sometimes it's not cheap or easy to comply with the law - but that doesn't make complying with the law optional no matter how much you wish it was.

    Sometimes I wonder if the people who post here think about what they're saying - or if they just scan the article enough to formulate a (weak) opposing point and rush to post it. There's only one thing worse than a patent troll and that's corporations trolling with patents they don't own. If corporations can destroy people for violating their patents, what do you think should be the proper punishment for claiming patents that you don't own?

  • by bistromath007 ( 1253428 ) on Monday March 01, 2010 @09:55PM (#31325390)
    Live by the sword, die by the sword.
  • by langelgjm ( 860756 ) on Monday March 01, 2010 @10:10PM (#31325482) Journal
    The whole point of qui tam actions are to encourage people to bring the suits in the first place. They do this with Medicaid fraud in many states, for example. The state might not have the resources to closely examine all possible instances of fraud, or private parties might have better information. So by giving people a cut off the award, you give them an incentive to look for the fraud and to bring it to the government's attention.
  • Re:Not so bad.... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jedidiah ( 1196 ) on Monday March 01, 2010 @10:11PM (#31325488) Homepage

    We want people to invent things. Whether or not we NEED to "reward" people in order to encourage this is disputable.

  • Re:No (Score:3, Insightful)

    by nido ( 102070 ) <{moc.oohay} {ta} {65odin}> on Monday March 01, 2010 @11:31PM (#31326038) Homepage

    We hardly manufacture anything anymore.

    The U.S. hardly manufactures anything that requires lots of human labor. If the manufacturing process can be automated, companies will keep the manufacturing here.

    Look at the tags on your clothes. I bet you have at least one item that says "made in Honduras/Mexico/etc of U.S. Material". Stitching is labor intensive, whereas turning raw materials into fabric is mostly done by machine.

    With that said, there's still a ton of manufacturing in the U.S. - computers and robots have just replaced humans as the machine operators.

    The problem for the U.S. working class is that it's expensive to employ them - wages, social security tax, medicare tax, benefits, unemployment tax, worker's compensation insurance, etc. It's much more profitable for Wall Street to hire foreigners and pocket the difference.

  • Re:Silly editor (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MillionthMonkey ( 240664 ) on Tuesday March 02, 2010 @03:17AM (#31327182)

    No. If a case comes before the court, and the law doesn't cover the facts of the case, then the correct response is "case dismissed".

    That sounds pretty stupid. Someone might do something that e.g. is hard to distinguish between murder and manslaughter since the law is vague or leaves ambiguity. The correct response isn't "case dismissed".

  • Re:How about.... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Ltap ( 1572175 ) on Tuesday March 02, 2010 @09:29AM (#31328868) Homepage
    Yes, it is. It's the very definition of not caring about your customers: allowing them to potentially come to harm for your own profit.

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