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What Are Some Major Patent Infringement Cases?

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  • Written By: Christopher John
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 18 March 2014
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Major patent infringement cases include Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., (1996), and Graver Tank & Manufacturing Co. v. Linde Air Products Co., (1950). Before the Markman decision, juries had to interpret the language used in a patent. After Markman, judges became responsible for deciding how to define key terms. The Graver decision created two methods for deciding whether someone is violating a patent. These major patent infringement cases were decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

To understand these major patent infringement cases, it helps to know that an invention can be a device or a process. A process is a systematic method of performing a task. To get a patent, a person must submit an application to a government patent office that describes the invention. The descriptions of the invention are called claims. If a patent is granted, the law protects the claims contained in the patent.  

The Markman case took away the jury’s responsibility of interpreting key terms to describe an invention. This is why Markman qualifies as one of the major patent infringement cases. Because of Markman, judges are now responsible for deciding the meaning of certain terms in a patent instead of a jury. As a result, courts now conduct a Markman hearing to make rulings on the specific terms used in a patent. The purpose of the hearing is to allow each party to the lawsuit has a chance to convince a judge to accept its definitions of key terms. 

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A list of major patent infringement cases would also likely include the Graver Tank decision. In Graver, the Supreme Court created two methods to decide whether someone is violating a patent. For the first method, the Court explained that if two inventions do the same thing in the same manner, and get the same result, then the inventions are the same. If the inventions are the same, there is a patent violation. It does not matter whether the inventions have different names, forms, or shapes. 

In the second method, courts examine the changes a person has made to an invention. If the changes are minor or insignificant, then it is likely that a court may find a patent violation. The Graver decision caused controversy because critics felt it expanded the scope of protection beyond the original claims of a patent. Nevertheless, Graver makes the list of major patent infringement cases because it created new methods of deciding whether someone is violating a patent.

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