No copycats

Published: Wednesday 31 July 2002

The US Supreme Court's recent decision to disallow close imitations of patented inventions has given back the holders of valuable patents their lost smile. Earlier, in 2000, a federal court had limited the 'doctrine of equivalents', which entailed that a patent on blue nails could be extended to cover red nails as well, as they have similar functions.

The lower court had said that if a patent's claim had been narrowed during review, it could not be widened again later by claiming equivalence. In the case, Festo Corporation, a machine-toolmaker, argued that its patent on a part for robotic arm should cover a similar device made by a Japanese rival. Patent holders feared that this would encourage more copycats. They requested the US apex court to reverse the lower court's verdict, which it eventually did.

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