Just last month, the Supreme Court made an important ruling noting that courts shouldn't rush to put an injunction on companies found guilty of patent infringement, pointing out that monetary damages could often be more appropriate. As we noted at the time, this made sense, as often the patent only covered a small portion of the product, and banning it completely was both unfair and bad for innovation and the economy. Of course, leave it to the lawyers to find the loopholes. It seems that this ruling has stepped up efforts (most notably among a bunch of wireless technology patent disputes) to make use of a little known aspect of U.S. trade law. It turns out that the International Trade Commission (ITC) was given the ability to ban the import of products it deems violate a patent -- effectively creating an injunction for "unfair trade practices" rather than patent infringement. Where this gets really questionable is that this ruling is made entirely without regard to other questions concerning the patent. That is, it doesn't take into account either the actual lawsuits involving those patents or reviews going on at the patent office. In other words, rather than waiting for a court case and all the various appeals, companies can just file a claim with the ITC and hope they decide to flat out ban their competitors' products before any court decision is actually made. It's yet another example of patents being used in a protectionist manner to hold back competition and innovation, rather than encourage it.
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