Courts in several recent cases have held that one cannot avoid a charge of false patent marking by fudging the marking. Back in April, when I posted about false marking concerns arising out of the rule in the Forest Group case that the qui tam damage award of up to $500 applies to each item improperly marked, some practitioners suggested that one might be able to avoid the problem by fudging the marking. Suggested markings included examples such as “this product may be covered by the following patent” and “this product is the subject one or more of the following patents.”
The court rejected the “may be covered” marking in Pequignot v. Solo Cup Co., 540 F. Supp. 2d 649, 654-55 (E. D. Va.2008). In a case decided in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania just last month, Hollander v. Etymotic Research, another court held that a marking that stated “ [X products] are covered by one or more of the following U.S. patents: [list]” would be false if any of the listed patents had expired.” The defendant argued unsuccessfully that if any of the listed patents had not expired, the statement would be literally true and therefore there should be no possible liability for false marking. Another court reached the same conclusion in Brinkmeier v. Graco Children's Products Inc., 684 F. Supp. 2d 548 (D. Del. 2010).
False marking requires both falsity and intent to deceive. The take away here is that it may be difficult cannot win on the falsity prong if one marks his product with any expired patent, regardless of the possible literal truth of the marking statement as a whole.