Having departed from our usual genre to write seriously about Bilski, we now return to the humorous, the ridiculous, and the pathetic, and report on a case which would appeal to the Addams Family and the Munsters. (In the Matter of: Certain Caskets)
Batesville Services Inc. is the largest casket manufacturer in the U.S. It is headquartered in Batesville, Ohio, the silicon valley of casket development. Batesville (the company, not the town) is the owner of five patents directed to improved caskets which, it contends, are being infringed by a Mexican company, Ataudes Aguilares SRL.
Ataudes has imported fourteen allegedly infringing caskets into Puerto Rico. In an effort to protect the domestic casket industry from this unfair foreign competition, Batesville (again, the company, not the town) has filed a complaint with the International Trade Commission, seeking an “exclusionary order” barring the importation of infringing caskets into the U.S. – including its commonwealth. In true investigative reporter style, we have secured a copy of this complaint (actually, it’s available online) which provides fascinating insights into the technology of the “funeral services industry.”
“Early caskets” – apparently as opposed to modern, high-tech ones – “did not provide any designated, easily accessible receptacle or compartment for placement of personal effects of the deceased … [or] for mementos placed by the deceased’s family and friends that was an integral part of the casket.” Moreover, “[e]arly caskets also included ornamental corner pieces that were not quickly or efficiently installed with or affixed to the casket.”
“Recognizing the drawbacks of the previously marketed caskets,” Batesville (the company, not the town) “began a program to revolutionize casket design.” (We are not making this up.) The result of this revolutionary development program was the introduction of “the only patented casket with a memorabilia compartment … as an integral part of the casket.” Such a memorabilia compartment was, assertedly, “previously unheard of in the funeral services industry”: “Batesville’s commitment to product innovations has brought it to the forefront of every significant new development in manufacturing and merchandising programs in funeral service.”
This integrated casket drawer is covered by FOUR patents. Batesville (once again, the company, not the town) “also developed and introduced an attachment mechanism to permit the quick and efficient installation and removal (emphasis added) of ornamental corner pieces onto and from caskets.” (We fail to see how anyone, other than grave robbers, would be interested in the “quick and efficient” removal of corner pieces from a casket.)
Thus, Batesville (the company, not the town), having “expended an incalculable number of employee hours in developing technology for caskets … solved the very sensitive problem associated with funeral services …” It noted that it has invested “substantial financial resources” in marketing its caskets and employs approximately 3,300 employees, many in Batesville (the town, not the company).
So now the matter is in the hands of the I.T.C., which must balance protection of a high-tech domestic industry against the benefit to Puerto Ricans of having low-cost caskets with built-in memorabilia drawers and removable corner pieces.
THE LESSON TO BE LEARNED: U.S. patent laws apply in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.
Please tell this to the folks at IAM Magazine, who just published a list indicating that Puerto Rico is a COUNTRY separate from the United States. Of course, I think IAM's bloggers are mostly English, so perhaps they can be excused.