Repairing, Retooling and Patents: What You Need to Know

Because Lane-McLaughlin repairs or retools parts that exist in other manufacturers’ machines, the issue of patents and patent enforcement is an important consideration. In the United States, a patent is issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and grants a property right to the inventor of a new device or process. The life of a patent is limited to 20 years from the date of application or 17 years from the date of issue. There is no renewal. A basic requirement in obtaining a patent is that the idea for the device or process must be new (a novelty). An old idea that is used in a new machine is not patentable. Effectively, this means that any component of a machine that existed 17 years ago is no longer protected under patent today.

The owner of a patented device cannot reconstruct the device; however, he has the right to competitively repair the device. To quote from Williamson, “when the purchaser paid the patentee for the patented goods, the purchase price was presumed to include fees for use and resale. Thus, upon sale, the patentee received adequate consideration for the rights in using and selling. This is the prevailing rule today.” 58 Md. L. Rev. 423, 436. (Williamson, 2009)

The right of a machine owner to competitively repair has long been upheld by the United States Supreme Court. As early as 1850, in Wilson v. Simpson, the Supreme Court held:

… repairing partial injuries, whether they occur from accident or wear and tear, is only refitting a machine for use. And is no more than that, though it shall be a replacement of an essential part of a combination. It is the use of the whole that which a purchaser buys, when the patentee sells to him a machine; and when he repairs the damages which may be done to it, it is no more than the exercise of that right of care which everyone may use to give duration to that which he owns … 50 U.S. (9 How.) 109. 13L. Ed. 66 (1850). (Williamson, 2009)

At Lane-McLaughlin, we take patents and patent protection very seriously. The Federal Courts have provided guidelines for determining permissible repair vs. impermissible reconstruction of patented devices. We understand these guidelines. If a component of a patented device is designed to be replaceable, is easily replaceable, or has a short life, we feel comfortable that it is permissible repair. If a component of a device is individually patented or has a life roughly equal to the whole of the device, we don’t repair or replace it.

If you have any questions or concerns about this issue, please contact us by e-mail. – L&M Board of Directors

Reference: Williamson, Thomas R., (2009), Repair vs. Reconstruct Opinion. (Privileged)