Recent Developments in False Marking Litigation

When the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit decided Bon Tool, it unwittingly triggered an avalanche of litigation against major corporations brought under 35 U.S.C. § 292, the false marking statute. The opinion resolved a split of authority regarding whether a manufacturer of a product could be subjected to a fine based on each article that had been falsely marked, or each decision to mark the article. Combined with the fact that the qui tam nature of the false marking statute obviated the need to establish traditional Article III standing, a new breed of patent trolls sprung into existence seemingly overnight, dedicated to the task of tracking down mis-marked products, and seeking to share half of a maximum $500 per falsely marked item bounty. The economic appeal in bringing such suits is obvious. A major manufacturer could potentially produce millions of falsely marked articles. Even if a court decided not to assess the full $500 penalty (which it has discretion to do), a successful plaintiff could still stand to reap a sizeable award based on the sheer number of falsely marked articles injected into the stream of commerce. Since that time, several cases have been decided that have helped to provide guidance to litigants on both sides of this rapidly evolving area of law.