Though largely unnoticed by the public, March 1, 2007, marked the transition from traditional analog television to digital broadcast television (“DTV”), a move some have characterized as the most significant change to the television broadcast industry since color replaced black and white. On that date, Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) regulations went into effect mandating that all televisions sold in the United States contain a digital tuner capable of receiving DTV broadcast signals. If consumers are unaware of the change now, it will not escape their attention on February 17, 2009, when their old analog sets go dark as broadcasters comply with further FCC regulations mandating the cessation of all analog television broadcasts. Ultimately, the government intends to profit by auctioning off the additional frequency spectrum freed up by the more efficient digital use of the broadcast spectrum.
The Supreme Court has held that, as a general matter, an injunction cannot issue if there is an adequate remedy at law. This follows, according to the Court, because the standard for when injunctions may issue derives directly from the practice of the English Court of Chancery around 1789, which followed the same principle. This Article argues that the Supreme Court’s reading of general Chancery custom is inapposite in copyright cases. The historical record shows that legal remedies were deemed categorically inadequate in copyright cases, and that by 1789, the Chancery’s jurisdiction to issue copyright injunctions had become concurrent and incontestable. The Supreme Court could thus hold today, without running afoul of traditional equitable principles, that a copyright injunction can issue without regard to the adequacy of legal remedies. This Article reaches its conclusion only after undertaking the most comprehensive treatment of the subject to date. It relies primarily on the original manuscript records of 220 infringement suits brought in the Court of Chancery from 1660 to 1800, which are stored at the National Archives in London, England, and a further review of earlier copyright-infringement suits from 1557 to 1680 in antecedent tribunals, many of which are also only available in manuscript form. The topic of this Article is particularly timely given the Supreme Court’s recent decision in eBay Inc. v. MercExchange, L.L.C., where it discussed the standard for issuing injunctions in patent cases, and where Chief Justice Roberts stated in a concurring opinion that lower courts should consider the inadequacy requirement in light of historical practices.
In 1998, in State Street Bank & Trust Co. v. Signature Financial Group, Inc., the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit rejected the contention that “business methods” are per se unpatentable, and stated that a business process patent can be granted on the same basis as any other patentable invention. The decision fostered a new awareness that business method claims could be patented, and in the wake of State Street Bank, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) saw an almost six-fold increase from 1998 to 2001 in the number of patent applications for business methods. While some commentators applauded the State Street Bank decision, others maintained that methods of doing business should be an excluded category of invention, articulating that the traditional filters of patent law are not appropriately sized to sieve overly broad business practices from attaining patent protection. Despite those concerns, business methods remain patentable inventions.
In the last several decades, the legal academy has devoted a great deal of attention to developing a cogent definition of “property.” During this period, scholars have grappled with the related question of how intellectual property rights – namely, patents, copyrights, trademarks, and trade secrets – fit within emergent property theories. By and large, the academy has concluded that intellectual property qualifies as “property” under all of the relevant analytical rubrics.
As expected, both policy makers and the judiciary have drawn upon the theoretical categorization of intellectual property as “property” when fashioning the normative rules that govern the recognition, allocation, and protection of intellectual property rights. In many instances, traditional property law concepts have been imported into intellectual property law with little or no consideration given to the theoretical and utilitarian distinctiveness of intellectual property. Nowhere is this wholesale importation – and its shortcomings – more apparent than in the law governing sentencing for federal crimes involving the violation of intellectual property rights.
One of the many requirements for patentability is that the inventor must disclose the “best mode” of the invention. This requirement is set out in the first paragraph of 35 U.S.C. § 112, which states that the patent’s specification “shall set forth the best mode contemplated by the inventor of carrying out his invention.” Based on the statutory language, the test for whether the best mode has been properly disclosed has a subjective element – whether or not the inventor believed that there was a best way to practice the invention at the time the patent application was filed. If the inventor believed that a certain method of practicing the invention was better than other methods, the inventor had to disclose that mode. If the inventor did not have a preferred method of practicing the invention, then there was no best mode to be disclosed.
At first, the test seems fairly straightforward. An inventor either had a preferred mode at the time of filing, or the inventor did not. The test becomes far more complicated, however, when the involvement of more than one inventor requires the consideration of multiple opinions. For example, what happens if there are two inventors and they disagree as to what is the best mode? Whose view controls and which mode or modes must be disclosed? In a case of joint inventorship where each inventor works on different parts of an invention, what happens when an inventor who did not work on a certain part prefers a best mode for that part, and that preference is not shared by the person who actually invented it? If a joint inventor is accidentally omitted from a patent, and the omitted inventor had a best mode preference that was not disclosed at the time of the application’s filing, should the patent be invalidated for failure to disclose that mode when the omitted inventor is added to the patent later? These are all questions that are critical to best mode analysis, as patent infringers currently are able to use the best mode requirement as a weapon to invalidate patents in litigation. And in order to answer these questions effectively, it is increasingly important to understand how the ease of establishing joint inventorship under the current statutory framework affects best mode analysis. Unfortunately, the Federal Circuit neglected to consider the impact of liberalized joint inventorship principles in Pannu v. Iolab Corp., where, in a footnote in dicta near the end of the opinion, the court appeared to set a standard that required any joint inventor who has a best mode preference for any claim to disclose it.
In June 2005, the Supreme Court held that the peer-to-peer (“P2P”) networks Grokster and Streamcast1 could be held liable for contributory copyright infringement upon a showing that network administrators clearly expressed support for or took other affirmative steps to encourage infringement. In the Supreme Court’s only prior holding on the issue of secondary liability, Sony Corp. of America v. Universal City Studios, Inc., the Court established that a manufacturer could not be held liable for contributory infringement if the device was “capable of substantial noninfringing uses.” In Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. v. Grokster, Ltd., the Court focused on the networks’ culpable conduct-relying on an inducement theory-and came to a conclusion that would allow the lower court to find Grokster liable on remand without resolving the current circuit split on the issue4 or rethinking or reinterpreting its prior holding in Sony. This ruling essentially overturned the Ninth Circuit’s holding that Grokster was not liable for its users’ infringement merely by virtue of the fact that the system also had substantial noninfringing uses. The Grokster Court instead held that the Sony doctrine did not foreclose the possibility that an actor could be liable for contributory infringement, even if the device is capable of substantial noninfringing uses, when there is evidence the actor encouraged and induced illegal use of the product.
Because we learn from history, we also try to teach from history. Persuasive discourse of all kinds is replete with historical examples – some true and applicable to the issue at hand, some one but not the other, and some neither. Beginning in the 1990s, intellectual property scholars began providing descriptive accounts of a tremendous strengthening of copyright laws, expressing the normative view that this trend needs to be arrested, if not reversed. This thoughtful body of scholarly literature is sometimes bolstered with historical claims – often casual comments about the way things were. The claims about history, legal or otherwise, are used to support the normative prescription about what intellectual property law should be.
“We are at a moment in our history at which the terms of freedom and justice are up for grabs.” Every major innovation in the history of communications – the printing press, radio, telephone – saw a brief open period before the rules of its use were determined and alternatives were eliminated. “The Internet is in that space right now.”
The technology of the Internet has revolutionized communication and information distribution throughout the world. The direction of this revolution, however, will be determined in large part by how the law chooses to regulate this new medium.
The increasingly complex technology involved in patent infringement cases has lead many to question the ability of district court judges and jurors in such cases to issue uniform and predictable decisions. In fact, there is evidence that the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals – the appellate court with sole jurisdiction and accumulated expertise in patent law – routinely overrules district court decisions regarding claim construction and prosecution history estoppel under the doctrine of equivalents. Given the frequency with which the Federal Circuit overturns district court decisions, and the fact that nearly every patent infringement case involves a dispute over claim construction or prosecution history estoppel under the doctrine of equivalents, patent infringement cases are typically uncertain until after appeal.
The uncertainty of patent infringement cases until after appeal is highly problematic for several reasons. First, uncertainty at the trial level is inefficient because it stimulates appeals rather than settlements. Second, it “creates doubt about the ability of district court judges to adjudicate complex technical patent [infringement] cases.” Finally, this uncertainty may even have the far-reaching effect of stifling innovation. Thus, the current system of adjudication for patent infringement trials is in need of reform, and a specialized patent trial court combined with a rule of greater deference appears to be the most effective means for bringing needed certainty to patent infringement trials.
The lawfulness of sharing copyrighted works has always been contested, but never so hotly as it is today. The marriage of digital technology and information products creates remarkable opportunities for digital file-sharing, and new disputes asking when copyright law should give copyright owners control over sharing of copies of their works. This Article broadens the terms of the sharing debate by recognizing that file-sharing is just one member of a diverse set of sharing behaviors that occur in copyright protected markets. Books and recorded movies are shared by lending – books are lent by public libraries at no charge, while movies are rented for a fee. Owners of copyrighted works often share their copies by performing them for an audience. The audience might be children listening to a bedtime story, friends watching a recorded movie together, patrons at a bar listening to recorded music, and so forth. Finally, users share many sorts of works via private reproduction using computers, video and audio recorders, photocopiers, and scanners.
Copyright law specifies a mixed pattern of rights over sharing. Copyright owners have worked effectively to exert control over many forms of sharing, but powerful business groups have defended users’ sharing rights as a means of increasing their profit. The two sides have wrestled in Congress and the courts over the scope of various copyright provisions, especially the fair use doctrine, the main arena for conflict over sharing rights and the main focus of this Article.