Thursday, June 15, 2017

Selling Patented Goods Is Exhausting

Lexmark International, Inc. "designs, manufactures, and sells toner cartridges to customers in the United States and abroad."  Impression Products refurbished and resold them, so Lexmark sued Impression Products for patent infringement.  The United States Supreme Court decided Impression Products v. Lexmark International on May 30, 2017, that a patentee who sells its patented products has "exhausted" its patent rights in that product.  Moreover, echoing its decision in an earlier copyright exhaustion case, Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons (U.S. 2016), the Court held that "[a]n authorized sale outside the United States, just as one within the United States, exhausts all rights under the Patent Act."  Now that the Court has decided cases in both the copyright and patent realms, the issue of exhaustion would seem to be, well, exhausted.

However, all is not lost for patent owners.  The Court suggested that patent owners might still be able to control post-sale uses of patented goods via contract.  It would not be surprising if the Court revisited this particular issue in the near future, now that contract law, not patent law, seems to govern post-sale goods.  As emphasis shifts from patents to contracts, there should be a plentiful number of contract disputes taking the place of patent enforcement actions, and some of these cases will surely raise issues of import to the Court.