Patents: Knocking Down the Pole

In the complex field of patents, everyday products have often inspired memorable decisions. The shredded-wheat biscuit became a courtroom cause celebre in 1938, when the Supreme Court set precedent by ruling that Kellogg could make the same biscuit as Nabisco, whose patent had expired and whose link to the shredded-wheat name had faded. The pink color of Pepto-Bismol was at issue in 1959, when a federal court in New York ruled that the pink had a "functional" purpose and therefore could be copied. Last week the Supreme Court handed down a decision of such broad impact that it overturned...

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