13 Landmark Intellectual Property Disputes

In one corner: Dr. Dre. In the other: A ... gynecologist?
In one corner: Dr. Dre. In the other: A ... gynecologist?
mangsaab/iStock via Getty Images

In 1813, Thomas Jefferson had this to say about patents: “He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.” A noble thought indeed, but try telling that to two parties locked in a multimillion-dollar court case over a bagless vacuum cleaner. And with no shortage of jealously guarded ideas in the world, major intellectual property disputes are never in short supply. As Bill Gates supposedly said, “intellectual property has the shelf life of a banana.”

1. Dr. Dre vs. a gynecologist

In 2018, Draion M. Burch, a gynecologist and the author of 20 Things You May Not Know About the Vagina, trademarked the name Dr. Drai. No one in the world had a problem with that, apart from Andre Romelle Young, better known as Dr. Dre. The rapper tried to prevent the trademark, arguing that the public would be confused at the similarity of the names. The U.S. trademark office, however, sided with the real doctor, quite reasonably arguing that the public would be unlikely to confuse a rapper with a gynecologist.

2. Tattoo artist Victor Whitmill vs. Warner Bros.

The dispute took getting in trouble for your tattoos to a whole other level.Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

Plenty of big name movies have been plagued by lawsuits, but one of the strangest intellectual property cases was that of tattoo artist Victor Whitmill vs. Warner Bros. Whitmill was the artist responsible for Mike Tyson’s facial tattoo, and he wasn’t happy when the design was replicated on the face of Stu (Ed Helms) in The Hangover Part II. He took Warner Bros. to court over the issue of the “original tattoo” and almost derailed the release of the movie. In the end, Warner Bros. settled the claim for an undisclosed amount.

3. Louis Vuitton vs. Haute Diggity Dog

High fashion and dog toys don’t often come into conflict, but they did in 2006 when Louis Vuitton sued Haute Diggity Dog for trademark, trade dress, and copyright infringement. Haute Diggity Dog, a designer and manufacturer of parody plush dog toys, provoked Louis Vuitton’s wrath with its furry "Chewy Vuiton" dog chews. Louis Vuitton argued the toys were likely to cause confusion. The federal appeals court, however, didn’t side with the French fashion house, finding that Chewy Vuiton was “a joking and amusing parody” [PDF] and nothing more.

4. Isaac Newton vs. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz

Back in the 17th century, mathematicians Isaac Newton and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz went head to head in a bitter argument over who had invented calculus. In the mid-1660s, Newton began working on his form of calculus, which he called "the method of fluxions and fluents." Leibniz began work on his calculus around 1673, but neither man published any serious paper on the subject until years later. The argument reached a peak around 1711 [PDF], when both scholars and their supporters engaged in a fully fledged, retrospective war of words about who deserved the credit. Today, most people accept that they developed their ideas independently. But Leibniz died poor and dishonored, while Newton was given a state funeral.

5. Star Wars vs. Battlestar Galactica

A year after the release of 1977’s Star Wars, which was retitled Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope upon its 1981 re-release, Universal Studios produced its own space opera, the TV series Battlestar Galactica and its pilot film Saga of a Star World. Twentieth Century Fox, which produced Star Wars, was highly unimpressed with the similarities between the two and promptly filed a lawsuit against Universal. To support its case, Fox highlighted 34 supposed similarities between the two productions, including “a friendly robot, who aids the democratic forces”; spaceships that “are made to look used and old”; and the destruction of “an entire planet, central to the existence of the democratic forces.” Fox's copyright claims were initially dismissed but later revived on appeal. The whole messy affair was later resolved without a trial.

6. Apple vs. Microsoft

Back in 1987, this Apple II Platinum was a technological wonder.Benoît Prieurm, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

When Microsoft released Windows 2.0 in December 1987, Apple Inc. went ballistic. Apple claimed Microsoft had copied the look and feel of the graphical user interface (GUI) used on its own Macintosh operating system. Apple filed a lawsuit against Microsoft in March 1988, kicking off a four-year legal dispute. The court finally ruled in favor of Microsoft, stating Apple’s arguments failed on the basis of originality. Some ideas were seen to be basic elements of a GUI desktop, including windows, icon images, menus and the ability to open and close objects.

7. Apple vs. Google

The smartphone patent wars have been raging since 2009, and pretty much every smartphone manufacturer has been involved at some time. It’s no surprise, as a new smartphone can contain hundreds of thousands of patents, creating a tangled web of intellectual property disputes. Apple and Google have been going at it for years, the argument mainly revolving around the Android mobile operating system, which Apple co-founder Steve Jobs called a “stolen product.” Finally, in 2014, the two companies agreed to settle all patent litigation between them, ending one of technology’s highest-profile lawsuits. For now, at least.

8. Adidas vs. Payless Shoesource Inc. and Shoe Branding Europe

Who knew three simple stripes could cause so many legal complications?Antoninwat, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

How do you trademark three stripes? That’s the problem Adidas has been facing in both the U.S. and Europe, with varying results. In 2008, Adidas took Payless Shoesource Inc. to court, arguing the company’s two- and four-stripe designs were copied from the classic Adidas three-stripe design, but with one stripe added or removed. Adidas won the case and Payless was ordered to pay a hefty $304.6 million for trademark infringement. In Europe, however, things didn’t go so well. In 2016, Shoe Branding Europe applied to have Adidas’s trademark annulled, arguing it wasn’t distinctive enough. The EU intellectual property office sided with Shoe Branding Europe.

9. Dyson vs. Hoover

In 1999, the British inventor James Dyson took the Hoover Company to court. He argued that the vacuum cleaner industry giant had copied his Dual Cyclone bagless vacuum cleaner, which had become the fastest-selling vacuum cleaner ever made in the UK. The two-year-long case became the David vs. Goliath battle of the floor-cleaning industry. Dyson came out on top, first rejecting an offer to settle the claim for £1 million, and later accepting a settlement offer of £4 million plus £2 million in legal costs.

10. Mattel vs. MGA Entertainment

Both tennis courts and legal courts are no match for Barbie.ErikaWittlieb, needpix // Public Domain

Few people could have expected that the case of Barbie vs. Bratz would turn into one of the most epic intellectual property disputes of recent years. It all began with Carter Bryant, a 31-year-old designer who was working for Mattel, the creators of Barbie, in 2000. While working for Mattel, he came up with the idea for Bratz. He then sold his idea to MGA Entertainment, one of Mattel’s competitors, two weeks before he quit Mattel. Bratz became an international hit and the first dolls to rival Barbie since she first strutted onto the scene back in 1959. Chaos ensued: Mattel sued Bryant, then Mattel sued MGA, then MGA sued Mattel. Damages were awarded then reversed, counterclaims flew in every direction, and the whole thing was a mess. Things didn’t settle down until 2013, with no one entirely sure who had come out on top— save for the legions of lawyers involved in the whole debacle.

11. Napster vs. pretty much everyone in the music industry

Napster, an online sharing service for digital audio files, faced the wrath of various parties for copyright infringement and numerous other claims. In 2000, Metallica became the first band to take on Napster, in the first legal case of its type. Dr. Dre, the Recording Industry Association of America, A&M Records, and various other record companies all filed similar lawsuits, and Napster was taken down a year later.

12. Daniel Morel vs. Agence France-Presse and Getty Images

In 2010, photojournalist Daniel Morel posted his own photos of the 2010 Haiti earthquake onto his Twitter account. When Getty Images and Agence France-Presse used the images without his permission, Morel took them to court in what would become a landmark trial for online news agencies and digital journalists. Twitter’s own terms and conditions supported Morel’s case, but the trial nonetheless dragged on for three years. Morel was eventually awarded $1.2 million in damages.

13. David Slater vs. PETA, on behalf of Naruto the monkey

When it comes to protecting intellectual property, there's no monkeying around.Self-portrait by the depicted Celebes crested macaque, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

When British nature photographer David Slater was hanging out with a group of Celebes crested macaques in Indonesia, he had no idea the storm that would come from his photography expedition. During his time with the monkeys, some of them picked up his camera and managed to take a few surprisingly good selfies. When Slater returned home, the fun photos were published in newspapers such as The Daily Mail, The Telegraph, and The Guardian. An editor at Wikimedia Commons, an online photo resource for free-license and public domain images, took the selfie photographs from The Daily Mail and uploaded them to the website. When Slater discovered this a few days later, he requested their removal. But Wikimedia Commons argued that the photos belonged to the monkeys, a position it maintains to this day (the U.S. Copyright Office agrees). On images such as this one and this one, the licensing note still reads: “This file is in the public domain, because as the work of a non-human animal, it has no human author in whom copyright is vested.” Slater was then taken to court in 2015, not by Wikimedia but by PETA, who used the “next friend” principle of law, which allows someone to sue in the name of another person—in this case, Naruto, one of the crested macaques. In 2018, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the selfie-taking monkey, threw out the copyright lawsuit and heavily criticized PETA, stating that Naruto was “as an unwitting pawn in its ideological goals.”

Celebrate Season 2 of The Mandalorian With These 10 Products

LEGO/Amazon
LEGO/Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

The second season of The Mandalorian is here, and that means a tidal wave of new merchandise is already on store shelves for eager fans to devour. And, of course, when we're talking about Mandalorian merch, we're really talking about anything with Baby Yoda's face printed onto it. And there's plenty of that available for the series' sophomore season on Disney+, whether you want to invest hours in a new LEGO set or just want to kick back and have a drink out of a Baby Yoda-shaped tiki mug. Check out some of our favorite products below.

1. Star Wars: The Mandalorian Polaroid Camera; $140

Polaroid/Amazon

Polaroid cameras are as classic as Star Wars itself, so this collaboration feels natural. The instant camera has The Mandalorian logo etched onto it, and the unique i-Type film prints photos with little Baby Yoda illustrations decorating the borders.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Amazon 3rd Generation Echo Dot The Child Stand; $25

Otterbox/Amazon

Amazon Echo Dots have become so popular, it seems most homes have a couple lying around. With this Baby Yoda stand, you can make sure you'll always know which one is yours. The iconically elongated ears will brighten up any Star Wars fan’s room and get them ready for the new season of the show.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Star Wars: The Mandalorian Marshmallow Cereal; $11

General Mills/Amazon

It feels like cereal hasn’t changed too much over the past couple of years, which is why this Mandalorian cereal is a real treat. It's not just that Baby Yoda's grinning on the box; the cereal itself also has marshmallow pieces shaped like the character.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Baby Yoda Socks; $11

Disney

Even your feet can join in on the Mandalorian hype with this set of Baby Yoda socks from Disney.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Stanley Mandalorian Insulated Mugs; $30-$35

Stanley/Amazon

The famous thermos mug brand, Stanley, has teamed up with Disney to create three exclusive bottles featuring imagery from The Mandalorian. The models include a vacuum bottle with The Mandalorian logo, a trigger-action mug showcasing The Child, and an insulated tumbler with Mando's helmet on it. And since these are from Stanley, you know your drinks will be kept at just the right temperature for up to 24 hours.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Mandalorian-Themed Monopoly; $30

Hasbro

The world of intergalactic bounty hunting makes a seamless transition into Hasbro’s classic game of property management and armchair capitalism in this special edition of Monopoly. Here, staples like Park Place and Baltic Avenue are replaced by the Armorer’s Workshop and a Jawa Camp, with boot and thimble tokens making way for Mando, Baby Yoda, and Moff Gideon pieces.

Buy it: Amazon

7. LEGO Razor Crest Ship; $130

LEGO/Amazon

Mando’s bulky star cruiser is one of the most memorable additions to the Star Wars ship library since the Disney acquisition. This 1023-piece LEGO set allows you to recreate the vessel brick by brick. The Razor Crest set even opens up to reveal a cargo hold, cockpit, and an escape pod—which are all the perfect size to fit the minifigures of Mando, Greef Karga, and Baby Yoda that come along with it.

Buy it: Amazon

8. 10-Inch Chrome Mandalorian Funko Pop!; $40

Funko/Amazon

If any duo deserved an extra-large Funko Pop!, it’s this one. Here, the Mandalorian, real name Din Djarin, is decked out in a special chrome helmet variant meant to resemble his fancy beskar armor. In his clutches is Baby Yoda, and the pair strikes a pose that's perfect for displaying on a desk or bookshelf.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Baby Yoda Tiki Mug; $27

Geeki Tiki/Toynk

This tiki mug is firmly in the “at this point, why not?” category of Baby Yoda merchandise. At 16 ounces, it’s an adorable vessel for your favorite island drink, ensuring that even your beverages are on brand while you binge the latest season of The Mandalorian.

Buy it: Toynk

10. Baby Yoda 39-Inch Area Rug; $50

Robe Factory LLC/Amazon

For floors that have a distinct lack of Baby Yoda, this 39-inch area rug sports a vivid illustration of everyone’s favorite pint-sized Force wielder sitting in his adorable floating bassinet. Made of 100 percent polyester, this rug would be right at home in your bathroom, kitchen, or bedroom.

Buy it: Toynk

Related: 11 Great Gifts for Star Wars Fans

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9 Things Invented By Accident

These sugary summer treats were an accidental invention.
These sugary summer treats were an accidental invention.
Daniel Öberg, Unsplash

Not every great invention was created according to plan. Some, in fact, were the result of a happy accident. In November 2020, the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca announced that the COVID-19 vaccine it had developed in partnership with Oxford University was 90 percent effective when administered in a dosing regimen they had discovered thanks to some “serendipity.” This wasn't the only unintentional discovery in history, of course. From penicillin to artificial sweeteners, all nine of the everyday items below were invented entirely by accident.

1. Penicillin

On September 28, 1928, Scottish scientist Alexander Fleming discovered that a petri dish of staphylococcus bacteria that had been inadvertently left out on the windowsill of his London laboratory had become contaminated by a greenish-colored mold—and encircling the mold was a halo of inhibited bacterial growth. After taking a sample and developing a culture, Fleming discovered that the mold was a member of the Penicillium genus, and the rest, as they say, is history.

2. Corn Flakes

The two Kellogg brothers—Dr. John Harvey Kellogg and his younger brother (and former broom salesman) Will Keith Kellogg—worked at Battle Creek Sanitarium in Michigan, where John was physician-in-chief. Both were strict Seventh-day Adventists, who used their work at the sanitarium to promote the austere dietary and moralist principles of their religion (including strict vegetarianism and a lifelong restraint from excessive sex and alcohol) and to carry out research into nutrition, and the impact of diet on their patients. It was during one of these experiments in 1894 that, while in the process of making dough from boiled wheat, one of the Kelloggs left the mash to dry for too long and when it came time to be rolled out, it splintered into dozens of individual flakes. Curious as to what these flakes tasted like, he baked them in the oven—and in the process, produced a cereal called Granose. Some later tinkering switched out the wheat for corn, and gave us corn flakes.

3. Teflon

Polytetrafluoroethylene—better known as PTFE, or Teflon—was invented by accident at a DuPont laboratory in New Jersey in 1938. Roy Plunkett, an Ohio-born chemist, was attempting to make a new CFC refrigerant when he noticed that a canister of tetrafluoroethylene, despite appearing to be empty, weighed as much as if it were full. Cutting the canister open with a saw, Plunkett found that the gas had reacted with the iron in the canister’s shell and had coated its insides with polymerized polytetrafluoroethylene—a waxy, water-repellent, non-stick substance. Du Pont soon saw the potential of Plunkett’s discovery and began mass producing PTFE, but it wasn’t until 1954, when the wife of French engineer Marc Grégoire asked her husband to use the same substance to coat her cookware to stop food sticking to her pans, that the true usefulness of Plunkett’s discovery was finally realized.

4. Slinky

In 1943, naval engineer Richard T. James was working at a shipyard in Philadelphia when he accidentally knocked a spring (that he had been trying to modify into a stabilizer for sensitive maritime equipment) from a high shelf. To his surprise, the spring neatly uncoiled itself and stepped its way down from the shelf and onto a pile of books, and from there onto a tabletop, and then onto the floor. After two years of development, the first batch of 400 “Slinky” toys sold out in just 90 minutes when they were demonstrated in the toy department of a local Gimbels store in 1945.

5. Silly Putty

At the height of World War II, rubber was rationed across the United States after Japan invaded a number of rubber-producing countries across southeast Asia and hampered production. The race was on to find a suitable replacement—a synthetic rubber that could be produced inside the U.S. without the need of overseas imports, which eventually led to the entirely unexpected invention of Silly Putty. There are at least two rival claims to the invention of Silly Putty (chiefly from chemist Earl L. Warrick and Scottish-born engineer James Wright), both of whom found that mixing boric acid with silicone oil produced a stretchy, bouncy rubber-like substance that also had the unusual ability of leaching newspaper print from a page (an ability that changing technology has now eliminated).

6. Post-It Notes

Pexels, Pixabay

In 1968, a 3M chemist named Dr. Spencer Silver was attempting to create a super-strong adhesive when instead he accidentally invented a super-weak adhesive, which could be used to only temporarily stick things together. The seemingly limited application of Silver’s product meant that it sat unused at 3M (then technically known as Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing) for another five years, until, in 1973, a colleague named Art Fry attended one of Silver’s seminars and struck upon the idea that his impermanent glue could be used to stick bookmarks into the pages of his hymnbook. It took another few years for 3M to be convinced both of Fry and Silver’s idea and of the salability of their product, but eventually they came up with a unique design that worked perfectly: a thin film of Spencer’s adhesive was applied along just one edge of a piece of paper. After a failed test-market push in 1977 as Press ’N Peel, the product went national as the Post-It note in 1980.

7. Saccharin

In 1878 or '79 (sources differ), Constantin Fahlberg, a chemist studying the properties of oxidized coal tar at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, discoveredwhile eating his meal one evening that food he picked up with this fingers tasted sweeter than normal. He traced the sweetening effect back to the chemical he had been working with that day (Ortho-sulfobenzoic Acid Imide, no less) and, noting its potential salability, quickly set up a business mass producing his sweetener under the name Saccharin. Although quickly popular (and equally quickly controversial), it would take the sugar shortages of two World Wars to make the discovery truly universal.

8. Popsicles

The first popsicle was reportedly invented by 11-year-old Frank Epperson in 1905, when he accidentally left a container of powdered soda and water, with its mixing stick still inside, on his porch overnight. One unexpectedly cold night later, and the popsicle—which Epperson originally marketed 20 years later as an Epsicle—was born.

9. Safety glass

Safety glass—or rather, laminated glass—was accidentally discovered by the French chemist Édouard Bénédictus when he knocked a glass beaker from a high shelf in his laboratory and found, to his surprise, that it shattered but did not break. His assistant informed him that the beaker had contained cellulose nitrate, a type of clear natural plastic, that had left a film on the inside of the glass. He filed a patent for his discovery in 1909, and it has been in production (albeit in various different forms) ever since.