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Today’s Most Famous Intellectual Property Cases

March 16, 2021
Four images sit under the label famous intellectual property cases

Intellectual property is a unique practice of law. As industries change and technology evolves, intellectual property continues to play a prominent role.

To understand just how much the law changes, take a look at recent intellectual property cases and those from the past few decades. Famous intellectual property cases can cover a variety of different industries and tangle with many different nuanced readings. From fashion to music to tech, these cases can have a far-reaching impact.

Learn more about some of the most famous intellectual property cases in the U.S. and how they’re still shaping business, art, and technology.

Mattel Inc. v. MGA Entertainment Inc.

This unusual copyright case featured Barbie v. Bratz dolls. The successful Bratz Dolls were launched in 2001 as a rival to Barbie, who first came on the scene in 1959. Within two years, $1 billion of Bratz dolls were sold. Because the Bratz creator, Carter Bryant, had previously worked for Mattel, they made the case that he broke his employee agreement that any intellectual property he created would be the property of Mattel.

In 2008, Mattel’s case against MGA went to court, and a jury ruled in Mattel’s favor, awarding it $100 million under the reasoning that Bryant had illegally sold his idea. It also gave Mattel rights over the Bratz line of dolls as well.1 That was reversed a year later when MGA was awarded $300 million in damages, fees, and costs after courts decided that they failed to recognize how much work was done by MGA in developing their designs. The case and fighting between the two toymakers continued until 2011, when MGA was awarded just shy of $90 million after it accused Mattel of stealing trade secrets.2

A&M Records, Inc. v. Napster Inc.

The file-sharing platform Napster launched in 1999.3 It allowed music lovers to easily download music from other users’ digital libraries. A year later it had 20 million users across the globe. The company’s launch transformed the music industry so much so that 2000 was the first year that record sales ever dipped on a global scale.

Many sued, including BMG, EMI, Sony, Warner and Universal,4 and in 2001, courts ruled against Napster for breach of copyright. Although Napster as a company continues to live on, its legacy as a major disrupter in the music industry remains what it’s most known for.

Adidas America Inc. v. Payless Shoesource Inc.

This trademark infringement case claims to be the largest trademark verdict in history. The seven year-long case was over Adidas’s iconic three stripe design, which it claimed Payless willfully infringed upon with their own sneakers. Their lawyers alleged that Payless sent pairs of Adidas to Chinese manufacturers to duplicate with two or four stripes. They estimate that roughly $400 million worth of shoes were sold or about 30 million pairs.

In total, Adidas was awarded over $300 million for the case. Payless was ruled against on trademark infringement, trade dress infringement and deceptive trade practices.5

Google LLC v. Oracle America, Inc.

Google and other tech companies might seem like unusual players in trademark infringement and copyright suits. However, its recent case has made it all the way to the Supreme Court and will have a major impact on coding and tech development moving forward. The question regards application programming interfaces (APIs) or interfaces that allow programmers to use a functionality without knowing exactly how it performs. Historically, the understanding in the tech community is that these APIs are free and open, allowing developers to build on others’ work and innovate quicker without starting from scratch.

The case questions whether Google’s Android operating system infringed on Java API, which Oracle owns. The copyright infringement case will impact whether functional code can continue to be considered fair use and has the potential to radically transform software development.6

It’s important to note that Google has had its fair share of famous intellectual property cases. In 2012, Rosetta Stone Inc. settled out of court with the company for trademark infringement lawsuit. Its complaint was that Google was allowing advertisers and other companies to buy sponsored ads that were associated with keywords related to its trademark. In addition to allowing its competitors to take advantage of Rosetta Stone’s trademark and identity, it allowed counterfeit programs the opportunity to capitalize on its name as well.7 They’re not the only company to bring a case over the search engine either: American Airlines settled its intellectual property suit over keywords out of court back in 2008, and four years before that, the insurance company, Geico, lost its case against the tech giant.8

Preparing for Tomorrow’s Intellectual Property Cases

Intellectual property law has the power to transform industries overnight. (This is not an exaggeration: The Supreme Court’s upcoming decision for Google could severely impact how entire industries function.) Lawyers need to have the required expertise to navigate laws as they stand now, but they also need the legal foundation to foresee changes and their potential ramifications for their companies and clients.

With an online LL.M. in Intellectual Property from Cardozo School of Law, you will build a deep knowledge base of how laws are being interpreted in the past and in more recent intellectual property cases. That comes from coursework taught by faculty who are studying the law and actively making an impact in how law is being practiced today. Learn more about our online LL.M. and its coursework today.

  1. Retrieved on February 16, 2021, from reuters.com/article/mattel-mga-lawsuit/corrected-u-s-judge-rejects-mattel-attack-on-bratz-verdict-idINN1E77326020110805?edition-redirect=in
  2. Retrieved on February 21, 2021, from theguardian.com/world/2011/apr/22/bratz-dolls-case-resolved-payout
  3. Retrieved on February 16, 2021, from theguardian.com/music/2013/feb/24/napster-music-free-file-sharing
  4. Retrieved on February 16, 2021, from theguardian.com/technology/2001/feb/12/copyright.news1
  5. Retrieved on February 16, 2021, from wsj.com/articles/BL-LB-5757
  6. Retrieved on February 21, 2021, from nytimes.com/2020/10/07/us/supreme-court-google-oracle.html
  7. Retrieved on February 21, 2021, from reuters.com/article/us-usa-court-rosettastone-google/rosetta-stone-and-google-settle-trademark-lawsuit-idUSBRE89U1GE20121031
  8. Retrieved on February 21, 2021, from getlegal.com/legal-info-center/intellectual-property-law/keyword-infringement-american-airlines-claims-google-violated-trademark-laws/