Wednesday, September 03, 2014
The case had far reaching implications in patent law far outside of broadcasting. It's verdict created the Blonder-Tongue Doctrine which remains fundamental today. The doctrine states that a patentee is not permitted to re-litigate the validity of a patent that has been held invalid previously. The exception to this would be if the patentee didn't have a full and fair opportunity to litigate the patent’s validity. Justice White considered this an issue of "collateral estoppel." So let us then examine the original 1971 Blonder Tongue case in all it's criminal glory. You can read patent US3369243 here.
The antenna was first built in 1958 by Dwight Isbell as an undergrad. It was going to be the perfect antenna for Color television. The University was probably very excited about all those future royalty checks. The problem was that it was a conceptually simple design... at least simple enough for other engineers to steal. Even if they didn't understand, Roger Carrel broke it down in great detail in his 1961 paper. The University's deal with JFD required that U of Illinois defend the patent...somewhat reducing the value of the deal.
log-periodicity. But months later in Chicago the University beat Blonder-Tongue. they repeated that act on the Seventh Circuit court of appeals. This left two conflicting rulings. I'd guess that no one was optimistic about even more elderly and less technically-adept judges resolve the rulings. But no one expected Chief Justice Warren Burger to go rogue.
Apparently Berger felt there were too many patent cases on his docket and was seeking a way to reduce the "logjam." They ignored all the technical information, all the case information, all the appeals case information. instead the lazy clods ruled that because the patent had been previously ruled invalid in Iowa, that University of Illinois was now barred from defending the patent. the Supreme Court abdicated their duty as tie breakers and mete out justice based on the random chronological order of when cases came to trial in different states. It's totally the opposite of today's pro-patent bias. It would never happen today. Nonetheless, the law remains on the books.