Creativity: Whose Bright Idea?

Companies are cracking down on pirates who steal designs, movies and computer programs. The battle is getting hotter -- and more important.

When Johnson & Johnson introduced a new fiber-glass casting tape for broken bones several years ago, executives at Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing flew into a rage. The tape, which sets fractures faster than plaster, was remarkably similar in design and function to a casting tape developed by 3M scientists. The St. Paul-based company quickly sued, charging J&J; with violating four of its patents. Last month a federal court backed 3M and ordered J&J; to pay $116 million in damages and interest -- the fourth largest patent-infringement judgment in history.

Although the verdict is subject to appeal, the award underscores the growing...

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