2020 Roundup: Overview Of Patent Law Decisions

It was a big year for intellectual property and patent law, in part because we voted out one president and voted in another. President Biden’s policies will certainly affect how these internationally tangled laws work moving forward, but 2020 had bigger impacts that go far beyond the president in office. The United States Supreme Court continues to weigh in on intellectual property law, and these are a few important decisions.

The Federal Circuit was also involved in adapting patent laws to be more consumer-friendly, especially in the computer technology industry. Life science also saw a monumental shift when the Federal Circuit decided that a bite-sized piece of DNA “enriched” in fetal DNA could be legally patented. 

The computer technology case resulted in a significant clarification of the law: commercial practices regarding networking are not eligible to be patented. 

Perhaps not as important a case, but Tom Brady has once again filed for a number of trademarks to protect his “alternative” names. He had formerly requested to trademark the name “Tom Terrific” but was essentially laughed out of court because there was a connection to a half-of-famer named Tom Seaver. 

Courts also ruled that an inter-parties review (or IPR) can be used to challenge certain types of patents, which effectively allows a challenger to fight a competitor for a particular patent via a year-long process in the Patent Office. 

Allen v. North Carolina resulted in a ruling by the Supreme Court that sets the precedent by which Congress should be barred from abrogating a state’s immunity in cases involving copyright infringement lawsuits. This allowed the aforementioned case to proceed to court. Allen was suing the state of North Carolina for using his photos taken during the salvaging of the famous Blackbeard wreck.

And believe it or not…another case led to a Federal Circuit Court of Appeals decision determining that a particular color scheme can be trademarked because it is potentially distinctive to the consumer.

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