Uncle Sam?s sovereign powers and your California patent

The government that creates laws to protect the patent rights of Los Angeles residents and businesses is accused of infringing upon them. A recent report said that some small companies have charged the U.S. government with patent infringement and some businesses are building cases.

Intellectual property laws don’t apply to the federal government the same way they do to individuals or California companies. It sounds antiquated to hear “sovereign immunity” used in a nation that’s never been under a monarch’s rule, but our government enjoys a great deal of leeway and protection by invoking the power of legal immunity.

Does that mean a patent infringement case against the U.S. government is useless? “Sometimes” may not be a definitive answer, but it is a truthful one. The government may take patents in the same way they claim land under eminent domain, provided the patent owner receives compensation.

Companies alleging government infringement say that property was lifted while collaborating on government research or projects and, in one case, even stolen from a thesis. Some angry business owners are too financially strapped to think about filing a lawsuit, but others say they’ll pursue infringement litigation.

The U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington, D.C. tries patent complaints against the federal government. Some claims are resolved through settlements, like a case brought by Apptricity. The U.S. Army agreed to pay $50 million following accusations that the government overstepped its bounds on a software installation agreement.

Boeing won a $28.3 million federal case in 2009, when the Court of Claims ruled that the government illegally appropriated an alloy patent. It took 30 years of litigation, but Hughes Electronics won a $154 million award. The court found that the government infringed upon the firm’s satellite technology.

Not every patent lawyer takes on government infringement cases, but it’s likely that your intellectual property attorney can point you in the direction of one who does.

Source: Fox News, “Small businesses claim U.S. government stealing their ideas” Eric Shawn, Dec. 17, 2013