The threat of false marking lawsuits has garnered much attention in the IP business press in the last couple of years. Companies of all sizes have been hit with qui tam actions (that is, suits brought by an individual or company on behalf of the US government to right wrongs done to the government, not the individual) where the basis of the action is the mis-marking of a product with an incorrect or expired patent number. Like a gold rush, these lawsuits have resulted in a number of legal entrepreneurs seeking out products that are incorrectly marked--usually by identification of expired patents, which is an easy thing to find--and their bringing suit against the offending companies. Indeed, there were over 500 false marking lawsuits filed in 2010, making this cause of action seem almost like a
In November, 2010, I wrote a blog post where I talked about a client who was sued for false marking, even though they had months before the suit changed the packaging of their product. We subsequently obtained a good result with our litigation strategy, and I think others may benefit from this experience. Moreover, I think it is important for we lawyers to share strategies for the overall benefit of our respective clients. This is not done enough: we legal experts all-too-frequently provide sagely advice from the comfort of our own siloed client experiences. For the past 3 years as a blogger, I have been working to build a more public dialogue on IP strategy, and did not want to let this opportunity go by to let others know of a successful strategy in dealing with a false marking litigation. (I feel comfortable sharing my experiences with this litigation,
The take home message: If your company sells a product that bears a patent number, you need to read this post in its entirety. Much has been written in recent months about false marking lawsuits, most of these in the form of "urgent legal alerts" by law firms that calmly deconstruct the appellate court rulings (this one is illustrative). At the end of the day, these articles likely do not look very "urgent" to business people like yourself because most business people do not engage themselves with patent law generally, let alone something as arcane as false marking. So, even though the subject excites us a patent experts, we really cannot expect you to get excited about something that does not seem to affect your ability to conduct business today. However, if your business is a likely target of a false marking lawsuit it will cost you big bucks almost immediately.