Top 5 Intellectual Property Disputes

Top 5 Intellectual Property Disputes

by Heleigh Bostwick, July 2009

Intellectual property is becoming more and more valuable and protecting intellectual property rights is becoming more important—and more difficult—as time goes by. The rise of the Internet is a major force behind the increase in intellectual property disputes.

Here's a look at the top 5 intellectual property disputes both on and off the Internet.

1. Amazon's 1-Click Patent

Amazon was granted a patent for 1-click technology on September 28, 1999. Also known as one-click buying, the technology allows customers to make an online purchase in a single click—without having to manually input billing and shipping information every time they purchase a product. Instead, 1-click uses a billing address and credit card or other payment info that is kept on file in the user's account.

There have been several patent disputes surrounding 1-click technology, including a patent infringement lawsuit filed against Barnes & Noble in 1999—only a month after Amazon's patent was issued. Barnes & Noble offered a checkout option called "Express Lane," which also enabled shoppers to make a purchase with one click. The lawsuit was settled in 2002; however, the terms were not disclosed.

2. Google Trademark Keywords

In April 2009, the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling stating that Google must continue in a trademark infringement lawsuit brought on by Rescuecom. In the lawsuit, Google is accused of selling the trademarked name "Rescuecom" as a keyword to Rescuecom's competitors. The keywords are used to deliver Google's sponsored search results, therefore allowing competitors to appear on the results page when a user searches for "Rescuecom." The lawsuit was originally filed in 2006 and dismissed by the lower courts.

This isn't the first time Google has found itself in the same legal predicament. Both American Airlines and Geico have sued Google over selling their trademarks as keywords. Google's trademark policy has gone through several iterations as the company attempts to find a balance that protects trademarks, yet allows retailers to advertise the trademarked goods they sell.

3. The Da Vinci Code Case

In the famous Da Vinci Code court case of Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh vs. The Random House Group Limited, Baigent and Leigh alleged that Dan Brown, author of the bestselling Da Vinci Code, infringed on the copyright of their non-fiction work, Holy Blood, Holy Grail. Because Brown had not copied the text of the earlier book, the claim was based on "non-literal" copying—Baigent and Leigh asserted that Brown told his story in the same "manner" in which they had expressed historical facts in their book.

The claimants' case was dismissed in 2006 with the judgment stating in part that "...there is no copyright infringement either by textual copying or non textual copying of a substantial part of HBHG..."

4. Napster

In one of the Internet's the most well-known intellectual property cases, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) sued Napster, a file-sharing site. Founded in 1999, Napster allowed users to share music files and thousands of people began downloading songs for free rather than buying CDs.

However, Napster did not own the rights to the music that people were uploading to its servers, where the music was stored and ultimately shared. The rights were owned by the recording artists and recording studios. The RIAA sued Napster and won, causing Napster to close its doors—or its servers, as the case may be. Napster now operates as a fee-based music download site and pays licensing fees for the music it sells.

5. Bratz Dolls vs. Barbie

In 2008, Barbie was finally declared the winner in the long-running intellectual property rights battle between Mattel, Inc. and MGA Entertainment Inc., the makers of Barbie dolls and Bratz dolls, respectively. In the lawsuit, Mattel sued MGA claiming that MGA stole the concept and the name of the Bratz doll from them.

Carter Bryant, designer of the Bratz doll, was an employee of Mattel, but also working as a consultant for MGA when he designed the doll. A few years after MGA began selling Bratz, Mattel sued both Bryant and MGA alleging copyright infringement. Because Bryant was on the Mattel payroll when he created the doll, the Bratz name and design are considered trade secrets. The courts sided with Mattel and ordered MGA to pay $100 million in damages.