Bonito Boats v. Thunder Craft (901422128)

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Read for 1/21/11

Reading Notes

  • Bonito Boats developed a hull design for a fiberglass recreational boat
  • No patent application filed
  • Filed action in Florida Circuit Court
    • Alleged Thunder Craft Boats has violated a statute by reverse engineering the hull and knowingly selling the hull duplicated in this manner
  • Trial court dismissed on the grounds that statute conflicted with federal patent law
    • Upheld by Florida Appeals and Supreme Courts
  • State law must yield when it clashed with the federal balance between public right and private monopoly
    • Florida statute offered patent-like protection for unprotected ideas
  • This right is granted to patent holder but not part of state protection
  • Federal Constitution does not deprive States of adopting rules in fields that Congress has left free
    • Law of unfair competition
    • State trade secret law
  • Florida Supreme Court came to a contrary conclusion from the Federal Circuit Appeals Court on a California law
    • Affirmed judgment of FSC
  • Dissenting FSC judges said it only prohibited one form of copying an unpatented item
  • Cited Sears and Compco as relevant to this case
    • Sears determined (this brief upholds) that states cannot offer patent-like protection for creations which would be unprotected under federal law
  • Kewanee Court
    • Trade secret protection did not conflict
    • Determined that states can regulate IP which may or may not be patentable as long as it is not inconsistent with federal law
  • USSC reaffirms reasoning of Sears and Compco
    • Florida statute substantially impedes public use of unprotected design
  • Unfair competition protects consumers
    • Ergo is not applicable in this situation
  • USSC found reasoning in Interpart Corp. v. Italia defective


  • Bonito released its design to the public and is therefore viewed as unpatentable
    • Florida statute allows Bonito to assert a property right in the idea, conflicting with federal law
  • Statute conflicts even though it only limits one method of reproduction
  • Competitive reality of reverse engineering may act as a spur to create patentable inventions
  • Statute provides a negative precedent for future laws which may substantially threaten the patent system's ability to promote progress in the useful arts
    • Could allow states to offer protection to special-interest industries to keep them in-state
  • Florida law "blurs [the] clear federal demarcation between public and private property
  • States are not free to offer protection to ideas which Congress has determined belong to the public
    • States can promote originality and creativity in their own domains
  • Statute offers protection beyond unfair competition or trade secret


  • Patent Clause is a balance between innovation and monopolization
  • Patent Act of 1790 was first
    • Created "Commissioners for the promotion of Useful Arts"
    • Thomas Jefferson driving force
  • Patent law prevents the removal of existing knowledge from public use
    • Secrecy or legal monopoly
  • Requirements
    • Novelty
    • utility
    • Nonobviousness
  • Patents protect for 17 years

Class Notes