Last fall, we mentioned that the Supreme Court had agreed to hear
yet another interesting patent case, looking at whether companies could sue up and down the supply chain for patent infringement. If you're familiar with the concept of the "first sale doctrine"
in copyright law, this case looks at whether or not the same concept applies to patents as well. Basically, if Company A legitimately licenses a patent from Company B and then sells a product based on that product to Company C, who turns around and resells it (perhaps as a component of a larger product), can Company B sue Company C for patent infringement? Or, did Company B "exhaust" the right to control Company A's products once it licensed the patent? That's what happened in the case. LG licensed a patent to Intel, who used the patent to make some chips. Intel turned around and sold those chips to computer makers, such as Quanta, who put them in laptops, which they then sold. LG claims that all those laptop makers also need to license the patents, even though they bought the chips from someone who had already licensed them. Basically, it's LG trying to get paid multiple times for the same patent.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court actually heard the case, and most of the mainstream press coverage suggests that the Justices were extremely skeptical of LG's position
, though others note that Supreme Court Justice tea leaves aren't so easy to read
. It does sound like the Justices did focus in on the key issues, though, and were concerned about the absurdity of a situation where a company is still controlling the sale of a product after it's been sold. While we wait for a decision, expect to see a few more patent hoarders try to rush through
infringement lawsuits where they sue up and down the supply chain. In the meantime, we're still curious to know why Yahoo sided
with LG, while most tech firms sided with Quanta on the other side.