A federal jury in Delaware has ruled against Callaway in its lawsuit alleging that Titleist infringed upon several of its golf ball patents.
The jury sided with Titleist’s arguments that even though its Pro V1 golf balls infringed the patents, the patents themselves weren’t enforceable because the design and construction did not represent a new concept or innovation when the patents were issued in 2001 and 2003. Titleist also argued that its design was developed independently.
Callaway had patented the use of multiple layers of different materials inside its golf balls, which Titleist contended was an obvious approach to construction.
I hope this is a trend in patents. In recent years, I have read of far too many being awarded for ideas that are head-slappingly obvious—such as Amazon’s (rumored?) patent on “one click to buy.” I suppose they’ve got a legal argument, but common sense would dictate that this is no more patentable than “take item off shelf and put it into shopping cart before taking it to the cashier.”
A recent economics podcast I listed to bemoaned the increasing trend of patent balkanization and gridlock—where so many patents have been issued for so many minute bits and pieces that it becomes almost impossible to create new products. Often these patents are held by companies whose only purpose is to generate patents on speculation, hoping someone infringes on them so that they can cash out in court.
The podcast discussed the case of a scientist who developed a new kind of “golden rice” that produces vitamin A, thus alleviating an eye disease that plagues the third world. Unfortunately, although the scientist did the work from scratch, the end result infringed on dozens of patents held by dozens of different companies. As a result, he couldn’t bring the life-saving product to market. In the end, he was able to shame the patent owners into relenting, but only after great delay and difficulty.
After listening to that podcast, I’ve wondered what other innovations are being kept from us.
Can you imagine the chaos in the golf world if someone was able to patent the idea of golf balls with multiple layers?