Important Intellectual Property Lawsuits

The term intellectual property refers to ideas and creations of the mind such as works that are literary, musical or artistic, including designs and symbols and names and images that are part of the world of commerce–meaning people make money (or at least hope to oneday) make money from them. Individuals and companies have long sought to protect their intellectual property and such work has long been stolen, without credit or permission. As such, many lawsuits have been filed seeking protection of intellectual property. Here is a look at some of the more important intellectual property lawsuits in the United States that have captured the headlines of celebrity news.

1. Apple: Since its inception, Apple has been involved in lawsuits against pretty much every giant tech company out there. That comes with the territory when you’re at the top. In 1988 Apple filed a lawsuit seeking to stop Microsoft and HP from selling computers with graphical user interfaces similar to Apple’s LISA computer and its Mac OS. It was a 6 year battle between these Goliaths. Apple tried to claim that the “look and feel” of Microsoft’s OS should be the focus, but the court disagreed, instead focusing on the individual elements of the interface, avoiding setting a precedent for “look and feel” copyright claims and making “analytical dissection the basis for UI cases.” Apple lost all claims in that suit except for a ruling that the trash can icon and folder icons from Hewlett-Packard’s NewWave windows application were infringing.  Apple and Google had various massive lawsuits against each other but in 2014, they both agreed to dismiss all the current lawsuits that exist directly between the two companies and also agreed to work together in some areas of patent reform. Apple has also taken on Samsung for infringing some of  Apple’s iPhone patents. Apple won that suit and Samsung was slapped with a $1.05 billion verdict. Recently though Apple faced its own huge judgment when it lost a lawsuit against VirnetX, a company that “specializes in virtual private networks,” for violating two of its patents.  The judgment? It was a biggie– $302 million.

2. Napster: Sean Parker, an early investor in Facebook, and founder of Napster, a free peer – to – peer music file-sharing company, was hit with numerous lawsuits. The company was a hugely popular, with 20 million users at its peak. The only problem was that Napster didn’t own the rights to any of the music its’ users were uploading. Those rights were owned by the recording artists and recording studios. As you can imagine the artists and the recording companies behind them did not stand idly by for this. The Recording Industry Association of America, A&M Record Inc., Dr. Dre, Metallica, among others, all filed lawsuits against Napster; and all were successful. Eventually, Napster had no choice but to declare bankruptcy. It now operates as a paid online music service.

3. Amazon: In 1999, back when Amazon was not a massive online retailer selling everything from underwear to umbrellas, but rather was mostly selling books sued rival bookseller, Barnes & Noble, over what was known as the “1 click patent”. As the name implies, the concept allowed customers to make purchases with just a single click of the mouse. Amazon was using this method but then Barnes & Noble began to allow its customers to make purchases in a similar way, that’s when Amazon, alleged that Barnes & Noble had infringed on its patent. Barnes & Noble argued that the patent should be declared invalid. Neither judge nor jury ever decided the suit as the two parties ultimately settled (the terms of the settlement are confidential). At the time, many in the law were disappointed, as a trial would have provided some much needed judicial guidance in the area of e-commerce law. In the end though when it comes to Amazon and Barnes & Noble, it’s pretty clear who has won– Amazon has all but taken over the online marketplace for sales of pretty much everything and  Barnes & Noble is just trying to hang on.

Intellectual property lawsuits aren’t going anywhere and with the internet the stakes are getting higher every day. This means that we should all expect to continue to see huge lawsuits, seeking huge damages, and resulting in huge verdicts.


JillThanks to our friends and contributors from Proof with Jill Stanley for her added insight into intellectual property lawsuits.