Compco Corp. v. Day-Brite Lighting, Inc. Cases of Interest >  IP >  Patent

Compco Corp. v. Day-Brite Lighting,



URL's to Opinion:

Facts – Compco and Day-Brite manufacture fluorescent lighting fixtures which are used in offices and stores. Day-Brite obtained a design patent on a “reflector having cross-ribs claimed to give strength and attractiveness to the feature.” Day-Brite was refused a mechanical patent on the same device. Compco’s predecess began making and selling that same fixture. Day-Brite alleged infringement and that Compco had copied the design in order to confuse and deceive purchasers. By doing so, Compco had unfairly competed with Day-Brite.
Procedure – Plaintiffs brought an action for infringement of a design patent and for unfair competition. The district court found that the patent was valid and the defendant was guilty. Both parties appealed and the Seventh Circuit affirmed. Certiorari granted.
Issue - Whether the use of a state unfair competition law to give relief against the copying of an unpatented industrial design conflicts with the federal patent laws.
Rule - When an article is unprotected by a patent or a copyright, state law may not forbid others to copy that article. When the design enters the public domain, it may be freely copied and state law that holds otherwise violates the federal patent laws.
Holding - Once in the public domain, old patents and copyright are allowed to be copied; to hold otherwise would be a violation of federal patent law.
Reasoning – Day bright was held not to be entitled to a design patent or a mechanical patent. Although the design did signify Day-Brite to the trade and acquired it a “secondary meaning”, but if the design cannot obtain a patent or a design patent, it can be copied at will. A state may impose liability deceive the public by palming their copies off as the original. However, the state law cannot impose liability for or prohibit the actual acts of copying and selling.

Portions © 2006-2019 by Michael Risch, Some Rights Reserved | Copyright Notice| Legal Disclaimer