The patent attorney who brought a qui tam suit against the maker of Solo cup lids has failed in his quest to collect trillions of dollars in fines. We blogged previously about patent lawyer Matthew Pequignot’s suit against Solo based on the qui tam provision of the patent law which allows citizens to sue companies that deceive the public with false or expired patent markings on their products.
Pequignot was claiming $500 per violation, and considering the vast number of Solo lids in existence–21,757,893,672 (you may even be slobbering all over one right now)–the fines would have produced an award for the United States of $5.4 trillion—enough to pay 42% of the national debt. Where Solo would have gotten its hands on this kind of cash is anyone’s guess. What Pequignot would have done with his trillions is also unknown. He could have purchased several muncipalities, or even a few states, and started his own patent-ocracy.
The court found that Pequignot failed to prove that Solo intended to deceive the public with its expired patent mark. Intent can be very difficult to prove in lawsuits generally, and it doesn’t help that a lot of products are stamped with expired patents simply because the manufacturer is too lazy or cheap to change the molds or machining.
In Solo’s case, it appears that the company did not change its molds based on cost-saving. A Solo cup mold produces a lid every four to six seconds, and goes on doing this for 20 years or more. Based on advice from an attorney, Solo instituted a policy whereby replacement molds would not include the expired patent number. However, the molds were only to be replaced when the old mold became damaged or wore out. This helps to explain why there were/are so many Solo lids floating around out there with the expired patent marking.
The general consensus is that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit’s ruling will put a damper on future suits aimed at getting big money for false marking. But with the number of old molds constantly stamping away out there, we’ll see.
This article is brought to you by the QTT, the epicenter for whistleblowers and people interested in the False Claims Act, Qui Tam Provisions, and Medicare and Medicaid fraud. To discuss a potential case, please call Eric Young at 1 (800) 590-4116.