Mining Patent Numbers for Dollars

Lawyers have found a new gold mine - digging for products marked with expired, erroneous and false patent numbers. It used to be that if a company had a wrong patent number on a product it would be subject to a $500 fine for all of the products it had mismarked. Now it may be subject to $500 for EVERY product that has been mistakenly marked. If a company sold a 1,000,000 units of an item with a wrong patent number on it that could mean a liability of up to $500,000,000. Half a billion dollars for what might have been a simple oversight. The intent of the law is to prevent companies from misleading the public; the previous fine of $500 in total did little in that regard. But a court ruling in September opened the door to a much broader interpretation.

Already, lawsuits claiming false patent markings have been brought against companies that make turkey pop-up timers, toilet plungers, fabric softener, flashlights, staplers, Frisbees, kites, telecommunications equipment, bubble gum and a toy called The Original Wooly Willy. Defendants include companies such as Procter & Gamble, Bayer Healthcare LLC, Cisco Systems, Scientific-Atlanta, Merck & Co., Pfizer Inc., 3M Co., DirecTV, Medtronic Inc.

Here's more from Dionne Searcy WSJ.

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