Supreme Court Grants Review in Two IP Cases

Authors: Scott Lydon and Christopher Messina.

The Supreme Court decided to consider the following two intellectual property cases: (1) the patent case SCA Hygiene Products v. First Quality Baby Products, to determine whether latches remains a defense under the Patent Act; and (2) the copyright case Star Athletica LLC v. Varsity Brands, Inc., to determine whether stripes, chevrons, zigzags and color blocks on apparel can be protected by copyright law.

Certiorari granted May 2nd

SCA Hygiene Products Aktiebolag, et al. v. First Quality Baby Products, LLC, et al., No. 15-927.

At issue is whether the equitable defense of laches may bar a claim for patent infringement brought within the Patent Act’s six-year statutory limitation period, 35 U.S.C. § 286.

In Petrella v. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 134 S. Ct. 1962 (2014), the Supreme Court held that the defense of laches cannot be used to shorten the three-year copyright limitations period. However for patent law, the Federal Circuit reached the opposite conclusion in its earlier decision, Aukerman Co. v. R.L. Chaides Constr. Co., 960 F.2d 1020 (Fed. Cir. 1992) (en banc).

Following Petrella, the Federal Circuit convened en banc to consider the conflict between Petrella and Aukerman, and in a 6-5 decision, held that laches may be used to bar patent infringement claims accruing within the six-year limitations period, reaffirming its position in Aukerman.

Star Athletica LLC v. Varsity Brands, Inc., Varsity Spirit Corporation, and Varsity Spirit Fashions & Supplies, Inc., No. 15-866

Federal copyright law makes a “useful article” such as clothing ineligible for copyright protection, separating copyright from patent law. However, if part of a useful article represents a creative design, that part may obtain copyright protection. Respondent Varsity Brands Inc. et al. ask whether the stripes and chevrons in a cheerleader uniform are sufficiently “separable” from the uniform in order to be copyrightable and are entitled to copyright protection as “pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works” under 17 U.S.C. § 102(a)(5).