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Last week I profiled how to use Google Scholar to research legal opinions. This week I’ll show how I used Google Scholar (in conjunction with Google Patents) to do some practical research using the example of an intriguing human interest story about an inventor that a colleague emailed to me.
Detroit area native Keith Taylor invented a car side-mirror turn signal system back in the 80’s. At the time he “crawled into bed” with an automotive supplier (think parts manufacturer, if you’re not familiar with the term) and received around a hundred thousand dollars for his invention. After the supplier went defunct, he stopped receiving money and suspected that the influx of side-mirror turn signals coming into the market in the 90’s were infringing on his intellectual property. He ended up suing Daimler Chrysler and lost the lawsuit due to the incompetence of his lawyer–so the local Fox News article would have you believe.
Let’s do some research into this case and draw our own conclusions. Read on to learn the simple technique I used to dig into facts of the case not mentioned in the article!
Since the article specifically mentioned the car brand Mercedes, I started by doing an advanced Google Scholar search on the keywords “keith taylor mirror mercedes” within all legal opinions and journals. Here are the first few results that surfaced.
The first three results relate to the lawsuit against Daimler Chrysler AG, the holder of the Mercedes brand at the time. The fourth result is the opinion from a related malpractice suit.
Working backwards and looking at the 2004 opinion on Taylor v. Daimler Chrysler AG, we see that it’s a “MEMORANDUM AND ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF’S MOTION FOR RECONSIDERATION” – not the original case that would get us to the heart of the matter with regards to why Daimler Chrysler did not infringe. From this opinion we see the US Patent the case centers around (which was not mentioned in the local news story): US 4,821,019. Using Google Patents, we can quickly load this patent in PDF form and check out the full contents including the drawing.
Moving backwards to the 2003 legal opinion from the United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division, we see the grounds for ruling non-infringement. Google Scholar does a great job presenting the opinion, with hyperlinks to Google Scholar results for other cited cases and highlighting from the terms we used in our search. Moving down to the IV. Analysis section, we see the specific claimed limitations that the plaintiff and defendant argued about.
One of the key arguments that prevented infringement from being proven was section A. “Translucent Housing.” This fascinating section gets into the nuts and bolts of claim construction, word choice, and legal meaning within patents. This section, which ruled that Daimler Chrysler did not infringe, pokes a major hole in Taylor’s argument, since it was shown that the word “translucent” had deliberate and specific meaning within his patent.
As a last resort, Taylor filed against Kochanowski et al. alleging legal malpractice, breach of fiduciary duty, and fraud. Taylor also lost this case, and has been left with essentially no recourse (especially since his granted patent from 1989 has expired).
This sad human interest story teaches us about the potential pitfalls of the patent system for a solo inventor. It should remind us that intellectual property lawsuits can be decided on a very thin margin, sometimes a word or two.
The next time someone sends you an article talking about a patent, an inventor, or a lawsuit, tell them there’s probably a lot more to the story than is being reported. Now you have the power to do the research and come to your own conclusions!
Do you like to do extra research on patent stories like this? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below!
This post was contributed by Intellogist Team member Chris Jagalla. The Intellogist blog is provided for free by Intellogist’s parent company, Landon IP, a major provider of patent search, technical translation, and information services.