Ghost of Patents Past

Have you ever noticed old patent numbers printed on new products? I own a pie dough blender that I bought new about 15 years ago. Etched on its blade are three US patent numbers, 1486255, 1645052 and 1724356.

A quick check in a patent database reveals that these were issued in 1924, 1927 and 1929, respectively. All three would have expired between 1941-1946, so what are the doing on a product manufactured almost fifty years later? As it turns out, marking products with expired or fake patent numbers is common.

Under U.S. law (35 U.S.C. 292) such false marking can result in a fine of up to $500. Historically, courts have limited damages in such cases to $500 per offense. This may change due to a recent ruling by the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in the case of Forest Group, Inc. v Bon Tool Company. The CAFC ruling, if it stands, would apply the penalty to each falsely marked item, which could quickly add up to a significant sum. What’s even more interesting is that the statute allows any person to bring suit and, if successful, receive 50 percent of the penalty.

So my little $2 dough blender might be worth a couple hundred dollars. Hmmm… In fact, there might be a small fortune of falsely marked gadgets in my kitchen. Certainly enough to pay for a new HDTV.

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