Supreme Court Rules on Patent Law

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that brands can’t use patent law to block the resale of their products. The decision was made on May 30, 2017.

The case that started the issue was Impression Products vs. Lexmark International. It involved whether Impression Products was infringing on Lexmark’s patent rights by buying empty, second-hand Lexmark printer cartridges, refilling and reselling them, according to E-Scrap News.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling overturns an appeals court ruling. “When a patentee sells one of its products, however, the patentee can no longer control that item through the patent laws - its patent rights are said to ‘exhaust.’ The purchaser and all subsequent owners are free to use or resell the product just like any other item of personal property, without fear of an infringement lawsuit,” the decision stated.

This decision was one that affected several industries, including auto recycling. An auto recycler takes a used part and resells it, the same as Impression Products.

According to E-Scrap News, an expert told The New York Times the decision means that anyone who refurbishes, repairs and resells used products would now be protected from patent infringement claims. In his decision, Roberts used the example of a shop that restores and sells used cars.

“The business works because the shop can rest assured that, so long as those bringing in the cars own them, the shop is free to repair and resell those vehicles,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote. “That smooth flow of commerce would sputter if companies that make the thousands of parts that go into a vehicle could keep their patent rights after the first sale. Those companies might, for instance, restrict resale rights and sue the shop owner for patent infringement.”

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