What happens when a massive corporation decides to profit unfairly from the intellectual property of a small business or entrepreneur –or to enforce its own trademark to a point that it becomes a trademark bully?
“Well, usually, nothing happens,” says Eve Brown, practitioner in residence and director of Suffolk Law’s Intellectual Property and Entrepreneurship Clinic. “The expense of taking on a large corporation in federal court dissuades most individual entrepreneurs and inventors from taking any legal action.”
That’s where the IP Clinic comes in. It charges no fees to provide a team of students who work with Brown and faculty advisors to mount vigorous defense and prosecution of IP cases they think are especially strong.
Learn more about Suffolk Law's 11 in-house clinics on our Clinics webpage.
One such case, a David and Goliath tale by Brown’s telling, starts in 2011, when Winthrop, Mass.-based artist Maureen Reddy designed a light shade that transforms ’70s-style bathroom vanity light bars—the ones with four bare bulbs—into something more chic. The shade uses only a screwdriver for installation.
In 2012, Reddy, pitched the idea to Lowe’s Home Improvement, with her product patent pending and a business and marketing plan ready. Despite her pending patent, she alleges that Lowe’s began producing and selling a strikingly similar version of her shade through a Florida-based company, Evolution Lighting, LLC. In the past year, she found Evolution's product on Lowe’s website, in Lowe's stores, and on various third-party sites, including Amazon.
Reddy turned to the IP Clinic to represent her in a patent infringement and unfair competition case against both companies. Without the clinic’s help it would have been difficult or impossible for Reddy to prosecute her claim, Brown said.
Two years later, the case is now in front of the Hon. William Young of the U.S. District Court in Boston. At Brown’s request, Christina Mott JD ’14 was granted permission to represent Reddy in court. The recent graduate has been performing behind-the-scenes research and preparation throughout the 2013-2014 academic year.
Mott and Reddy achieved a victory on June 4 during a pre-trial hearing in federal court, where Mott successfully convinced the court to adopt the clinic’s claim construction in the patent infringement case. This win is excellent news for Reddy, since the claim construction defines the scope of the patent and, in many cases, can greatly influence the ultimate outcome of the case.
By avoiding a narrow interpretation of Reddy's patent, Mott and the clinic increased the chance that all three of the shades that defendants sold could be found by a jury to have infringed Reddy's patent.
Mott calls Reddy’s situation “a poster case” for encroachment of intellectual property. “She is an inventor who’s passionate about her product and tried to follow the right steps to get her invention to the market, when something went wrong,” Mott said.
The case is scheduled to go to trial in the fall of 2014.