Bonito Boats v. Thunder Craft (JWB Class)

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The Case

  • Bontio Boats (FL) develops hull shape in 1976
  • Florida law prohibits direct molding in 1983
  • Thunder Craft (TN) copies hull shape via direct mold, sued by Bonito Boats in 1984
  • Started in Orange County Circuit Court – Trial Court dismissed Bonito Boats petition
  • Florida Appellate Court  Florida Supreme Court  U.S. Supreme Court

History of Patent Law

Patent Clause balances the need to encourage innovation and the avoidance of monopolies which stifle competition without any concomitant advance in the “Progress of Science and useful Arts”

  • Patent Act of 1790
    • granted a 14-year monopoly to any device “not before known or used” (NOVELTY)
    • invention must be “sufficiently useful and important” (UTILITY)
    • Thomas Jefferson, as first Secretary of State, wrote that a patent requires full disclosure – so that others can build off of it, etc.

Patent Law Today

  • U.S. Code Title 35, Section 102: A person is entitled to a patent unless
    • (a) the invention was known or used by others in this country, or patented or described in a printed publication in this or a foreign country, before invention thereof by the applicant for the patent
      • exactly ‘when’ an invention happens is difficult to pinpoint, but if it is known anywhere before that event, patent is not granted
      • if patent is granted without knowledge of someone else knowing the invention, patent is invalid
      • 'known or used' is not a limitation for foreign countries
    • (b) the invention was patented or described in a printed publication in this or a foreign country or in public use or on sale in this country, more than one year prior to the date of the application for the patent in the United States
      • part (a) is in regards to knowledge before the invention, part (b) is in regards to patents/publications before the patent application
      • part (b) does not specify ‘by others’, indicating you can ruin your own patent application by publishing your idea a year before your patent application
  • A patent is
    1. Limited by Supremacy clause
    2. Policy: limited monopoly to encourage innovation
    3. Novelty: supports policy (innovation); now in 35 U.S.C. 102 (U.S. Code Title 35, Section 102)
    4. Non-obviousness: 35 U.S.C. 103, invention cannot be anticipated (because then it would be ‘obvious’); the differences between the prior art and the invention must not be ‘obvious’ to a person of ordinary skill in the specific field
    5. Utility: usefulness
    6. Disclosure: have to be willing to tell the world how it works
    • grants exclusive rights to invention for 20 years after filing the patent application
      • can exclude others from making, using, or selling invention (35 U.S.C. 154)

Other Relevant Cases

  • CAFC = Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
    • California CAFC Case (Federal) conflicted with this case’s decision
      • Trials (such as in the U.S. District Court) are the only places where evidence is collected
      • In appeals, higher courts are only looking at the record of the case; not hearing new evidence/new witnesses

Supremacy Clause

  • Supreme Court reviewing whether or not Florida Law conflicts with Federal Law
  • Supremacy Clause (Article VI of the Constitution): “The Constitution, and the laws of the United States [including patents],…shall be the supreme law of the land.”
  • Congress can “promote the progress of science and the useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries”
    • Therefore any such State Law would be pre-empted by the Supremacy Clause
    • You can keep people from using your property
  • Florida Law was unconstitutional because it was inconsistent with the purpose of patent laws
    • Violated Supremacy Clause