- Oct 16, 2017
Just to expand on something you alluded to elsewhere in your comment, this is hardly unique to the US legal system. In fact, from what I understand (not a lawyer here, so take this with a heaping of salt) literally every single country in the world has standardized on a first-to-file (FTF) system at this point. The US formerly made use of a first-to-invent (FTI) system that allowed an earlier inventor to file after a later inventor, but that system was abandoned in favor of standardizing on FTF in 2013, partly because of the problems you mentioned later in your post. For example, unscrupulous companies would invent something and benefit from it for years while purposefully concealing it until someone else figured it out, at which point they'd file their own application that would trump the first one, thus allowing them—at the expense of society's net advancement—to maximize their length of exclusivity beyond the patent's actual period. FTF addresses that issue by denying them patent protection if they fail to file first, thus incentivizing an earlier public disclosure.Unless I misunderstand the patent laws in the US, a patent holder in the US can tell you exactly what you can and can't do with your ideas if they filed before you. The best case scenario being that you can pony 300-400 bucks an hour to hire an IP lawyer in order legally prove the indefensibility of said patent.
Where the US (and Japan, China, Russia, Australia, etc.) differ from the EU is in whether or not the inventor disclosing their own invention prior to filing counts as prior art. The EU has a strict policy of dismissing applications on the basis of any public disclosures prior to the application, including those made by the inventor, whereas many other countries have a grace period that allows the original inventor to disclose the idea first and then file the actual application later (up to 12 months later for some countries). If you're in a conversation where the distinction about the grace period matters, the countries with a grace period are sometimes referred to as having a first-inventor-to-file (FITF) system.
Otherwise, however, they're all mostly on the same page when it comes to who gets the patent. And, of course, any prior art from third-parties can be used to invalidate patents or get applications dismissed in all jurisdictions.
Worth noting, just because someone is first to file, it doesn't mean that they get exclusive rights to use that invention. For instance, the notion of prior user rights exist in most jurisdictions. If you came up with something on your own and were using it before someone else filed a patent for that same thing (e.g. you were the unscrupulous company in the first paragraph), you're generally entitled to continue using it in the same manner without having to pay any licensing fees. Of course, you'd have to make that argument in court if they tried to sue you for infringement.
P.S. As an aside related to something I'm seeing others mention, patents do not need to be defended to maintain their potency, hence why submarine patents and patent ambushes are concerns for companies. Patents lose their potency when they expire and not a moment sooner, so you almost certainly can sue someone for infringement years after the fact, even if (annoyingly) you knew about the infringement all along. And you do not need to defend your patent equally vigorously against all infringers. Many patent trolls only attack small targets because they know that small companies would sooner settle out of court than run up legal fees while risking a loss in court.
I suspect the source of the confusion is that trademark holders may lose their rights if they don't defend them. Trademarks, unlike patents, can last in perpetuity, so there needs to be a mechanism to retire them—such as a requirement that they be maintained and defended—otherwise none would ever expire. Because patents have an expiration date, there's no need for such a requirement (though I agree with Kmpkt that they last too long as it is).
With trademarks, if you stop fighting for it, a would-be infringer can argue that your product's name is no longer associated with your products in the public consciousness, so you're no longer entitled to the exclusive right to that mark. Most famously, this happens when a trademarked term becomes used generically. For instance, "thermos" eventually came to mean any insulated beverage container in common American usage, "kleenex" meant any facial tissue, and "band-aid" meant any sterile bandage with adhesive, so all of those became generic trademarks to which the original rights holders lost exclusive use. Relatedly, Google had to adjust a lot of their marketing language after they realized that people were starting to use "googling" as a generic term for "using a search engine".
P.P.S. It seems to me that claim 10, particularly the references to the bezel and its design, significantly narrows the scope of the patent, such that it wouldn't be applicable to most or all of the previously cited case designs. Again, I just play an armchair lawyer on the Internet (I've looked up a lot of this stuff over the years for various discussions I've been a part of, but that's as far as my "expertise" goes), so take what Im saying with more than your recommended daily intake of salt, but that's my read on it.