Talk:Bonito Boats v. Thunder Craft, 489 U.S. 141 (1989)

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The facts of this case do not matter too much. This case contains a good discussion of the legal basis for and economic rationale for the US patent system.

Students in the course should add sections from the case that talk about the relevant point of interest. Of course it depends heavily on the case, but generally these quotes should be between about a paragraph and 3 pages in length.


(d) The Patent and Copyright Clauses of the Federal Constitution do not by their own force, or by negative implication, deprive the States of the power to adopt rules to promote intellectual creation within their own jurisdictions where Congress has left the field free of federal regulation. Goldstein v. California, 412 U. S. 546. Even as to design and utilitarian conceptions within the subject matter of the patent laws, the States may place limited regulations on the exploitation of unpatented ideas to prevent consumer confusion as to source or the tortious appropriation of trade secrets. Both the law of unfair competition and state trade secret law have coexisted harmoniously with federal patent protection Page 489 U. S. 143 for almost 200 years, and Congress has demonstrated its full awareness of the operation of state law in these areas without any indication of disapproval. Silkwood v. Kerr-McGee Corp., 464 U. S. 238.

The Patent Clause itself reflects a balance between 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." As we have noted in the past, the Clause contains both a grant of power and certain limitations upon the exercise of that power. Congress may not create patent monopolies of unlimited duration, nor may it "authorize the issuance of patents whose effects are to remove existent knowledge from the public domain, or to restrict free access to materials already available." Graham v. John Deere Co. of Kansas City, 383 U. S. 1, 383 U. S. 6 (1966). From their inception, the federal patent laws have embodied a careful balance between the need to promote innovation and the recognition that imitation and refinement through imitation are both necessary to invention itself, and the very lifeblood of a competitive economy. Soon after the adoption of the Constitution, the First Congress enacted the Patent Act of 1790, which allowed the grant of a limited monopoly of 14 years to any applicant that "hath . . . invented or discovered Page 489 U. S. 147 any useful art, manufacture, . . . or device, or any improvement therein not before known or used." 1 Stat. 109, 110. In addition to novelty, the 1790 Act required that the invention be "sufficiently useful and important" to merit the 14-year right of exclusion. Ibid. Section 2 of the Act required that the patentee deposit with the Secretary of State a specification and, if possible, a model of the new invention, "which specification shall be so particular, and said models so exact, as not only to distinguish the invention or discovery from other things before known and used, but also to enable a workman or other person skilled in the art or manufacture . . . to make, construct, or use the same, to the end that the public may have the full benefit thereof, after the expiration of the patent term." Ibid.

Id. at 322. Thus, from the outset, federal patent law has been about the difficult business "of drawing a line between the things which are worth to the public the embarrassment of an exclusive patent, and those which are not." 13 Writings of Thomas Jefferson, supra, at 335. Today's patent statute is remarkably similar to the law as known to Jefferson in 1793. Protection is offered to "[w]hoever invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof." 5 U.S.C. § 101. Since 1842, Congress has also made protection available for "any new, original and ornamental design for an article of manufacture." 35 U.S.C. § 171. To qualify for protection, a design must present an aesthetically pleasing appearance that is not dictated by function alone, and must satisfy the other criteria of patentability. The novelty requirement of patentability is presently expressed in 35 U.S.C. §§ 102(a) and (b), which provide: "A person shall be 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 the invention thereof by the applicant for patent, or" "(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 application for patent in the United States. . . ." Sections 102(a) and (b) operate in tandem to exclude from consideration for patent protection knowledge that is already available to the public. They express a congressional determination that the creation of a monopoly in such information would not only serve no socially useful purpose, but would in fact injure the public by removing existing knowledge from public use. From the Patent Act of 1790 to the present day, Page 489 U. S. 149 the public sale of an unpatented article has acted as a complete bar to federal protection of the idea embodied in the article thus placed in public commerce.

In addition to the requirements of novelty and utility, the federal patent law has long required that an innovation not be Page 489 U. S. 150 anticipated by the prior art in the field. Even if a particular combination of elements is "novel" in the literal sense of the term, it will not qualify for federal patent protection if its contours are so traced by the existing technology in the field that the "improvement is the work of the skillful mechanic, not that of the inventor." @ 52 U. S. 267 (1851). In 1952, Congress codified this judicially developed requirement in 35 U.S.C. § 103, which refuses protection to new developments where "the differences between the subject matter sought to be patented and the prior art are such that the subject matter as a whole would have been obvious at the time the invention was made to a person of ordinary skill in the art to which said subject matter pertains." The nonobviousness requirement extends the field of unpatentable material beyond that which is known to the public under § 102, to include that which could readily be deduced from publicly available material by a person of ordinary skill in the pertinent field of endeavor. See Graham, 383 U.S. at 383 U. S. 15. Taken together, the novelty and nonobviousness requirements express a congressional determination that the purposes behind the Patent Clause are best served by free competition and exploitation of that which is either already available to the public, or that which may be readily discerned from publicly available material. See Aronson v. Quick Point Pencil Co., 440 U. S. 257, 440 U. S. 262 (1979) ("[T]he stringent requirements for patent protection seek to ensure that ideas in the public domain remain there for the use of the public"). The applicant whose invention satisfies the requirements of novelty, nonobviousness, and utility, and who is willing to reveal to the public the substance of his discovery and "the best mode . . . of carrying out his invention," 35 U.S.C. § 112, is granted "the right to exclude others from making, using, or selling the invention throughout the United States," for a period of 17 years. 35 U.S.C. § 154. The federal patent system thus embodies a carefully crafted bargain for encouraging Page 489 U. S. 151 the creation and disclosure of new, useful, and nonobvious advances in technology and design in return for the exclusive right to practice the invention for a period of years. "[The inventor] may keep his invention secret and reap its fruits indefinitely. In consideration of its disclosure and the consequent benefit to the community, the patent is granted. An exclusive enjoyment is guaranteed him for seventeen years, but, upon expiration of that period, the knowledge of the invention inures to the people, who are thus enabled without restriction to practice it and profit by its use." United States v. Dubilier Condenser Corp., 289 U. S. 178, 289 U. S. 186-187 (1933). The attractiveness of such a bargain, and its effectiveness in inducing creative effort and disclosure of the results of that effort, depend almost entirely on a backdrop of free competition in the exploitation of unpatented designs and innovations. The novelty and nonobviousness requirements of patentability embody a congressional understanding, implicit in the Patent Clause itself, that free exploitation of ideas will be the rule, to which the protection of a federal patent is the exception. Moreover, the ultimate goal of the patent system is to bring new designs and technologies into the public domain through disclosure. State law protection for techniques and designs whose disclosure has already been induced by market rewards may conflict with the very purpose of the patent laws by decreasing the range of ideas available as the building blocks of further innovation. The offer of federal protection from competitive exploitation of intellectual property would be rendered meaningless in a world where substantially similar state law protections were readily available. To a limited extent, the federal patent laws must determine not only what is protected, but also what is free for all to use. Cf. Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp. v. Arkansas Public Service Comm'n, 461 U. S. 375, 461 U. S. 384 (1983) ("[A] federal decision to forgo regulation in a given area may imply an authoritative federal determination that the area is best left unregulated, Page 489 U. S. 152 and, in that event, would have as much preemptive force as a decision to regulate") (emphasis in original).

The prospect of all 50 States' establishing similar protections for preferred industries without the rigorous requirements of patentability prescribed by Congress could pose a substantial threat to the patent system's ability to accomplish its mission of promoting progress in the useful arts. Finally, allowing the States to create patent-like rights in various products in public circulation would lead to administrative problems of no small dimension. The federal patent scheme provides a basis for the public to ascertain the status of the intellectual property embodied in any article in general circulation.

One of the fundamental purposes behind the Patent and Copyright Clauses of the Constitution was to promote national uniformity in the realm of intellectual property. See The Federalist No. 43, p. 309 (B. Wright ed.1961). Since the Patent Act of 1800, Congress has lodged exclusive jurisdiction of actions "arising under" the patent laws in the federal courts, thus allowing for the development of a uniform body of law in resolving the constant tension between private right and public access. See 28 U.S.C. § 1338; see also Chisum, The Allocation of Jurisdiction Between State and Federal Courts in Patent Litigation, 46 Wash.L.Rev. 633, 636 (1971). Recently, Congress conferred exclusive jurisdiction of all patent appeals on the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, in order to "provide nationwide uniformity in patent law." H.R.Rep. No. 97-312, p. 20 (1981).

"It is difficult to conceive of a more effective method of creating substantial property rights in an intellectual creation than to eliminate the most efficient method for its exploitation."

For almost 100 years, it has been well established that, in the case of an expired patent, the federal patent laws do create a federal right to "copy and to use."