Intellectual Property Lawsuits No One Saw Coming

To say that intellectual property is a difficult concept for people to wrap their heads around is an understatement. Technically, you can’t trademark or patent an “idea.” You can only trademark something tangible. But what does that mean in reference to IP? You could trademark a company name or logo because those fall under IP law. You could trademark an underlying technology. Anyway, the point is that these weird rules have led to some amusing lawsuits. Here are a few you might enjoy hearing about.

The Hershey company sued a number of marijuana dispensaries in Washington and Colorado directly after pot was legalized in those states because the dispensaries were allegedly selling knockoffs with names like “Reefers Peanut Butter Cups.” Hershey didn’t find this nearly as amusing as we do. Sadly, Hershey won the trademark case.

Know who Anna Short Harrington was? Don’t worry — no one does. But one of her descendants has sued Quaker Oats and PepsiCo for a whopping $2 billion. The descendant alleges that Quaker Oats and PepsiCo didn’t properly pay Harrington for using her likeness on Aunt Jemima bottles. The lawsuit questioned Harrington’s legal status as an employee or contractor. The Minnesota judge threw out the case.

You’ll remember that we mentioned in a previous post a court ruling that allows IPR proceedings for those who would like to challenge a patent. Basically, these go directly through the Patent Office, and have become the easiest way to mount a challenge. But bigger companies — like Big Pharma, for example — never expected to be challenged in quite this way. That’s because it’s pretty much just a money grab for the challenger.

But how does that make anyone money? If you answered the stock market, you hit that nail on the head. The challenger would either buy or sell shares of stock depending on whether the IPR would likely harm or help a particular company. Instant money. And really shady.

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