Aro Mfg. Co. v. Convertible Top Replacement Co. Patent Infringement
Aro Mfg. Co. v. Convertible Top Replacement Co. patent infringement case was presented in the United States Supreme Court in 1961. While deliberating on this case, the Court redefined repair and reconstruction doctrine of the U.S patent law. The decision made by the Court is known as Aro I in some cases because some years later similar issues were readdressed by the Supreme Court in another case in 1964 in which similar parties were involved.
In controversy in the case was about fabric top replacement in a convertible automobile’s roof assembly. After sometime, fabric tops of a convertible would become discolored and torn due to droppings from birds. Owners would like to replace the part of the tops that is made of cloth without having to purchase the entire top assembly of the convertible.
The patent would cover some metal parts and the cloth that would be serviceable. Aro supplied replacement cloth that would fit different car models. Patent infringement arose when Aro refused to pay patentee a royalty fee.
Before the Supreme Court made a decision in Aro I case, buyers of patented products replaced the components of the products. The lower courts in the U.S decided whether this conduct was permitted as a repair or an impermissible reconstruction of patented article using complex and multi-factor balancing test. When making the decision, the courts had to weigh several factors including cost of replaced components against the relative components of the whole article, replaced components against the overall number of the components, life span of the components and essence of the replaced components, as well as whether the replaced component was the gist of the entire invention.
In its opinion, the court of appeals said that the main issue is not relatively expensive or minor component of patented combination or element that is expected to wear out after some years of use despite having an expectable life span that is shorter than life span of other components. For this reason, the court concluded that the owner would or would not rationally believe that a minor repair was being made while replacing worn out fabric. Instead, this replacement would account for a major reconstruction.
However, few precedents of the Supreme Court had a broader analysis than foregoing the factor analysis. The Court noted that distilled essence of the case originated from a ruling by Judge Learned Hand who stated that patent monopolists should not hinder their buyers from reconditioning articles that are worn out by use unless if they make new articles. On this basis, the court rejected factor analysis approach used by the lower courts on reconstruction and repair.
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