Mercedes-Benz has broken new advertising ground by hyping patent ownership in its E-Series television commercial. In lieu of more traditional automobile advertisements involving high-speed maneuvering around fallen debris or demonstrations of innovative features, Mercedes-Benz has chosen to highlight the paper trail resulting from its patent collection.
The first thought that came to my mind after seeing the advertisement was “80,000 patents, that is a mountain of legal fees.” The message, however, seems to be creating a new standard for the future of automobiles: “A legacy of innovation for all cars to follow.” Most of the patented technologies involve high-end features including headlights adjusting for oncoming motorists and sensors to detect objects in the roadway or cars drifting into the oncoming lane.
Placing emphasis on the number of patents underlying the creation of the E-Series might actually prove to be a solid strategy. While automobile advances do not happen quite as quickly as mobile technology causing devices to quickly become outdated and outmoded, every new year of automobiles improves upon the last. With patent protection for Mercedes-Benz’s newest line of features comes twenty years of protection from using, making, or selling the same technology.
However, the patent right is an affirmative right with limitations. A person who makes an improvement to an already patented technology can apply for his own patent, so long as it satisfies the requirements for patentability: useful, novel, and non-obvious.
While Mercedes-Benz is likely not alone in owning staggering numbers of patents, it is alone in making patent ownership a marketing strategy.
* Sarah R. Riedl is a second year law student at Wake Forest University School of Law. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Illinois. Upon graduation in May 2013, Miss Riedl intends to practice business litigation and intellectual property law.