The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has agreed to hear two cases that deal with intellectual property law issues. The first, Star Athletica v. Varsity Brands, involves cheerleader uniforms and the second, SCA Hygiene Products v. First Quality Baby Products, involves diapers.
Cheerleaders head to court: Intellectual property protections and uniforms
It may be a stretch to say that cheerleaders are heading to court, but their uniforms are definitely on the way. This case questions whether or not a cheerleader uniform design that was featured in an article can have copyright protection. At issue is a specific legal term “useful article.” This term refers to items like clothing, which are generally ineligible for copyright protection under federal copyright law. However, with many things in the legal world, there is a caveat: if part of the useful article represents a creative design, that design may be eligible for protection.
Ultimately, SCOTUS is asked to determine at what point the “feature of a useful article – such as a garment or piece of furniture – is conceptually separable from the article and thus protectable.”
Diapers head to court: Intellectual property protections and the doctrine of laches
In intellectual property law, there is a certain time period that a patent holder has to sue another that is allegedly infringing on their patent. Generally, this right extends for six years. Any patent holder that fails to bring forward a lawsuit to enforce a patent within six years looses the opportunity to sue. As in the case at issue above, there is an exception. In this case, the exception is referred to as the doctrine of laches.
The doctrine of laches is a legal term that is used in situations when a patent holder delays in bringing a suit against an alleged patent infringer. In this case, the maker of TENA, an adult product for incontinence, claims First Quality Baby Products (FQBP) is infringing on its patent for the product. However, the Swedish company delayed in moving forward with its suit against FQBP, discussing the infringement and then filing suit seven months later. This time delay has led FQBP to seek dismissal of the claim under the defense of laches.
SCOTUS will be asked to determine if the defense of laches applies in these situations, allowing the time that a patent holder could move forward with a suit to be shortened.
Impact of these holdings
Holdings by SCOTUS have an impact throughout the country, as every state is required to follow holdings passed down from the country’s highest court. As a result, these holdings will impact the practice of intellectual property law throughout the country.