Ice Cream and Printers in Massachusetts

What Lexmark, off-brand printer cartridges and an ice cream parlor have in common has become the subject of a United States Supreme Court debate. The debate is centered around how to determine who can bring about false advertising claims under federal law.

The debate is being settled in Washington, D.C., of course, but the findings will have long-range effects in Worchester, Massachusetts, and the rest of the United States. Business litigation can be confusing by nature, and this case is a prime example of litigation that is difficult to comprehend but whose eventual outcome may be very important in American legal proceedings.

It seems that the middle of this whole case is Lexmark’s claim of patent infringement against Static Control. The whole subject of proprietary parts and advertising come into play here. Lexmark sells laser printers and toner cartridges for these printers. They also sell other printers. As anyone who has ever used a printer knows, it usually calls for replacement cartridges from the original manufacturer. Evidently, Static control sells microchips that identify cartridges as being genuine to remarketers who refill and sell cartridges more cheaply to the public for use in Lexmark printers. Lexmark is against this practice. This dispute has lasted over 10 years.

There have been many issues over the 10-year period, but the ones that came to trial by jury found no inducement and misuse by Lexmark. As one can see, this issue is confusing; however, the water is further muddied. Steven Loy, who was arguing for Lexmark, said that when the court draws a line, there is always a party that believed it should be on the other side. Justice Breyer then introduced the ice cream parlor analogy, which, in short, talks about poisonous chocolate ice cream sauce and the right to sue about it. Justice Breyer is then alleged to have said that he regretted introducing the ice cream analogy. As is easily discerned by the above case, business litigation can be a sticky situation, no pun intended. An experienced business litigation attorney can best answer all questions about patent infringement, breach of contract, fraud, product liability or any other business litigation questions that may arise.

Source: Bloomberg BNA, “Court Struggles With Question of Who Should Have Standing Under Lanham Act“, December 04, 2013