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IP Alert: Supreme Court Grants Certiorari in Two Significant IP Cases

May 2, 2016

Today the U.S. Supreme Court granted writs of certiorari in two cases in intellectual property law. The cases are SCA Hygiene Products Aktiebolag v. First Quality Baby Products, LLC and Star Athletica, LLC v. Varsity Brands, Inc.

First Quality follows the 2014 case Petrella v. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc. in which the Court held that the defense of laches cannot be used to shorten the three-year copyright limitations set forth in the copyright statute. The Federal Circuit has followed a contrary rule in the patent setting and has applied laches to bar some infringement claims accruing within the six-year limitations described in 35 U.S.C. § 236. Last year, the Federal Circuit issued an opinion affirming this rule. Today, the Supreme Court agreed to consider the following question: “Whether and to what extent the defense of laches may bar a claim for patent infringement brought within the Patent Act’s six-year statutory limitations period, 35 U.S.C. § 286.”

In the second case, Star Athletica, the Court agreed to consider whether a feature of a useful article, such as a garment or piece of furniture, is conceptually separable to the article itself unless protectable by copyright law. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held that respondent Varsity was able to assert copyright protection in the stripes, chevrons, and color blocks incorporated into a cheerleader uniform because these features are purely aesthetic. This decision conflicts with the decision of other federal circuit courts. Today, the Court took up the following question: “What is the appropriate test to determine when a feature of a useful article is protectable under § 101 of the Copyright Act?”

The Court was asked to consider a second question, namely, whether courts should give judicial deference to the Copyright Office in analyzing the validity of a copyright registration, and, if so, to what extent and under what standard. Limiting its consideration to the first issue, the Court did not grant certiorari on this second question.

Fitch Even attorneys will report on future developments in these cases.


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