While trade mark infringement cases between companies are often heavily publicised such as Kylie vs Kylie (Jenner vs Minogue) or the infamous Ugg boot dispute, patent infringement seems to be less so.
However, patent infringement is just as common and equally as distressing for the patent owner to discover. With the consequences of patent infringement being punishable by jail time and payment of often huge sums in damages, it's something every business and individual should seek to avoid.
In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the most famous patent infringement cases both historically and in more recent times.
Arguably one of the most famous patent infringement cases occurred back in the early 90s between photography giants Kodak and Polaroid.
Known for their instant photography, Polaroid sued Kodak, citing that they had infringed on no less than twelve of their patents regarding instant photography and the technology associated with it.
Kodak was eventually ordered to pay Polaroid the hefty sum of $909 million in damages, plus interest which totalled $925 million. Just shy of one billion dollars - a sum that was virtually unheard of in the 90s.
During this time Kodak was already struggling financially due to competition and by 2012 they had filed for bankruptcy.
Apple patent infringement cases are not unusual, however, their long-term war with Samsung is certainly one for the books. Both parties have been suing and counter suing each other since April 2011 regarding patents for smartphone technology.
Just over a year later in July 2012, the duo were engaged in a mammoth to and fro involving over 50 patent-based lawsuits globally. This exhaustive back-and-forth can be viewed in more detail here.
Ultimately, billions of dollars worth of damages were claimed and awarded between them with Apple winning the ruling in some nations and Samsung in others.
In 2013, much loved gaming company Nintendo was ordered to pay their competitor Tomita Technologies $30 million in damages for infringing on their existing patents for 3D technologies.
It came following Nintendo’s launch of their 3DS hand-held gaming system which utilised technology patented by inventor Seijiro Tomita who had shown Nintendo the tech during a pitch in 2003.
Unsurprisingly, Nintendo appealed the decision and the case was not settled until March 2017 when Nintendo was successful in its bid to have the ruling overturned. Tomita ended up with zero dollars in damages and a hefty legal bill instead.
Monetarily, one of the most famous patent infringement cases happened quite recently in 2021 between tech giants Intel and VLSI Technology. VLSI Technology pursued Intel for having infringed on eight separate patents that they hold regarding chip-making technology.
Having held two of the patents in question since 2019, VLSI technology actively pursued damages and was eventually awarded a record-breaking sum in the US courts of over two billion dollars. Intel lodged an appeal, but the ruling was upheld.
Along with the Covid-19 pandemic came a scramble by several pharmaceutical companies to develop a vaccine. Lesser-known pharmaceutical company Moderna was quick off the mark and has since risen to a place of prominence in the industry.
Seeking to maintain their competitive advantage that was so hard won, in 2022 they decided to enforce their patents related to Covid vaccine developments after earlier saying they wouldn't do so.
Moderna’s main competitor Pfizer is firmly in the firing line. Pfizer firmly denies any infringement stating their own research and development techniques have been used.
As of December 2022, this patent case is still being battled in US courts and could become as long-lasting as Apple vs Samsung and equally as costly with regards to damages. It is likely to also set new precedents regarding the protection of potentially life-saving patents during extreme global events.
Globally recognisable footwear company Converse recently won a case against fashion designer Steve Madden regarding design patents (the US term for registered designs) they hold for their popular high-top shoes. Converse holds over 268 registered designs globally with more than 230 granted and over 85 percent of these active.
Upon discovery of the infringement as seen in Maddens Winnona Sneaker in 2020, Converse issued a cease and desist notice, however, Madden continued to sell the item in question. Converse filed to sue for infringement as a result and in turn, Madden filed a motion to dismiss these claims saying his design was markedly different.
The district court disagreed and Madden’s motion was denied. There is no settlement currently published, however, Converse is asking for significant damages over the infringement.
This is not Steve Madden's first accusation of design infringement with the designer also facing suits with Dr. Martens and Nike among others.
Cases of patent infringement in Australia proceeding to court are relatively rare. A Federal Law Review survey conducted in 2021 showed that of 3700 inventors, around 28 per cent of their inventions would be subject to infringement at some stage.
Around half of these infringers were issued with cease and desist letters and four in ten of those complied. Of the remainder, only half a per cent actually proceeded with commencing court actions.
(Diagram: Patent Infringement in Australia)
This is considered to be in part due to the perceived costs of suing somebody for patent infringement and the lack of access many inventors have to proper legal representation.
This is in stark comparison with the USA where patent-related litigation typically makes up more than half of all lawsuits filed each year nationally.
No matter if you are a small business, an as-yet unknown inventor or a huge corporation, pursuing proper protection for your ideas is essential. As the above examples show, failure to check if you are infringing on a patent, however inadvertently, can have extremely costly consequences.
Likewise, if your idea is copied and you have no patent in place, your ability to properly defend yourself is completely compromised. The single best way to deter infringers is to pursue a patent application. At the least, a patent affords you the leverage to license a large player who can enforce their own market.
At IP Guardian, our specialist patent attorneys can guide you through the entire process of securing a patent with ease. From performing all essential checks to submission of your application, handling objections and more, we see the process through from start to finish.
Likewise, should you be facing challenges due to someone infringing on your existing patent and have no idea where to begin with fighting back, we can help with that too.
Registered Patent and Trade Mark Attorney with significant experience obtaining all forms of registered intellectual property. I hold a Bachelor of Science in Engineering, a Masters of Business Administration and a Masters of Intellectual Property. I’m passionate about showing my clients how they can protect their brands through trademark registrations.
I found them online and initially I was bit hesitant to talk to them about my problem but when I spoke to Barry, I felt more comfortable, and he gave me all the information and advice I wanted without even thinking that I am going to give him business or not. Finally, I went with them, and they made the entire process so smooth and easy for me. john was keeping us updated with each step he was doing. I would recommend these guys for any patent or trademark related service.
I would like to express my thanks to Barry and his team at IP Guardian in Sydney for their assistance with our recent Trademark application. Barry was highly professional, readily available throughout the process and clearly communicated expectations. Barry even helped us refine our application so that we had a greater chance of success which was very much appreciated to avoid extra costs. I would highly recommend Ip Guardian for all your Trademark and Intellectual Property needs.
Barry, last week, you and your professional team, made my year (or probably my next 21 years). So thank you so much for your executive, calm yet very effective actions under extream pressure. Elias Hajjar, Director, TROLLEYON PTY LTD
Informative, understood the business, what it needed and answered questions in a friendly and approachable manner. Easy decision to continue working with IPGuardian for future trademarking
From the day I contacted Barry Meskin until now with my silly amateur questions, he has been nothing short of amazing. I actually NEVER leave reviews anywhere, but I felt the need to do so for Barry and his team. I myself am a tradie, so I felt intimidated speaking to an attorney. But the second I spoke to him on the phone, he made me feel right at home. Never pressured me into any decisions, yet when I decided to go ahead with him, he delivered what I needed much quicker than what I was expecting. I cannot speak highly enough of him and recommend his services 100%.
The team at IP Guardian have made the process extremely straight forward and easy for us to understand exactly what was required. I will highly recommend to our clients who need help with IP.
I have dealt with Barry over the years, his advice and experience has helped me greatly. Looking for to working with him and his team again. Maher.
IP Guardian helps protect words, symbols, letters, numbers, names, signatures, phrases, sounds, shapes and smells. Yes, I said smells.
We've had the pleasure to work closely with Barry for many years. He has been exceptional to deal with and has a keen focus in providing a commercial led IP "go to market" strategy for start-ups and well known brands. Makes it easy and always advises on different ways to navigate through the IP process.
Barry Meskin @ IP Guardian is an experienced and extremely knowledgeable expert in the domain of intellectual property, patents and trademarks. In addition he has been extremely responsive and very professional in all our dealings. I wholeheartedly recommend Barry's services to any business or anyone seeking advice in this area - great quality and great value.