The top 5 biggest cases of patent infringement globally

Georgina Horváth
June 5, 2024
Reading time:
3 minutes

Patent infringement occurs when an individual or commercial entity engages in unauthorized acts such as making, using, selling or importing a patented invention without the consent of the patent holder. This infringement can result in significant financial loss and protracted litigation. These disputes often involve large corporations and can result in substantial damages being awarded to the patent holder. 

In this article, we delve into the top 5 biggest patent infringement cases based on the amount of the penalty and the significance and publicity of the case. Examining these famous cases reveals insights into the difficulties of patent law and underlines the importance of protecting intellectual property rights.

5. Polaroid vs Kodak – $925 million

Although this case originated in the mid-1970s, it remains one of the most significant patent disputes to date. Polaroid took Kodak to court in 1976, accusing it of infringing on 12 patents relating to instant photography. The pioneering instant camera and film company, now defunct, sought $12 billion in damages, a staggering sum even by today's standards. In October 1990, Kodak was obliged to pay Polaroid $909 million in damages. This was later adjusted to $925 million, including interest. The two companies finally buried the hatchet under this monumental sum in July 1991, agreeing to drop all appeals of the 1990 federal verdict.

Polaroid and Kodak cameras

4. Apple vs Samsung – $1.05 billion

This patent war doesn’t need any introduction. Everyone in the field of patents knows the sue-and-counter-sue game between Apple and Samsung. Apple sued Samsung in April 2011 for a patent infringement suit, and by July 2012, both companies were involved in 50 lawsuits around the globe. The main issue was Samsung's copying of the look and feel of Apple’s products, particularly the iPhone. In August 2012, a U.S. jury awarded Apple $1.05 billion in damages, making it one of the largest patent infringement awards in history. The case continued to see appeals and adjustments to the awarded amounts, reflecting the ongoing tensions between these tech giants.

Iphone and Samsung phones

3. Carnegie Mellon University vs Marvell technology – $1.17 billion

In 2009, Carnegie Mellon University filed a lawsuit against Marvell Technology Group, accusing the semiconductor company of infringing two of its patents related to hard disk drive technology. After a lengthy trial, a jury awarded Carnegie Mellon $1.17 billion in December 2012. The case highlighted the critical role of academic institutions in innovation and the importance of protecting their intellectual property. Marvell appealed the decision, but the final settlement in 2016 still reflected a substantial payout.

2. Centocor vs Abbott laboratories – $1.67 billion

In June 2009 Centocor, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, won a patent infringement lawsuit against Abbott Laboratories. The case concerned Abbott's breakthrough drug Humira, which Centocor claimed infringed its patents for antibody technology used to treat autoimmune diseases. The jury awarded Centocor $1.67 billion in damages, including both past sales and a royalty on future sales. The case underscored the high stakes involved in the pharmaceutical industry, where patent protection is crucial to ensuring a return on investment in research and development.

1. Idenix Pharmaceuticals vs Gilead Sciences – $2.54 billion

In 2016, Idenix Pharmaceuticals LLC won a patent infringement lawsuit against Gilead Sciences Inc. over hepatitis C drugs. Idenix claimed that Gilead's two major blockbuster drugs, Sovaldi and Harvoni, infringed on their patents. The jury sided with Idenix and awarded over $2.54 billion, which is the largest patent infringement damages in history. 

How to avoid patent infringement

Patent infringement poses substantial risks, but with proper practices, businesses can mitigate these dangers. Conducting thorough freedom-to-operate (FTO) searches before launching new products helps identify existing patents and avoid inadvertent infringement. Licensing and cross-licensing agreements can remove the risk of infringement and boost innovation. 

Keeping detailed records of the inventive process provides evidence of independent development, while staying updated with legal precedents guides IP strategy. In-house IP training and regular consultations with a patent attorney ensure compliance and reduce accidental infringement.

Protect your intellectual property

These landmark cases of patent infringement highlight the immense financial stakes and the critical importance of protecting intellectual property. 

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