Date Posted: September 2010
This essay explains how a 2006 court decision arising from the manufacture of the F-22 Raptor fighter jet paves the way for government-owned General Motors to steal intellectual property. In Zoltek v. U.S., the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit held that a loophole in the Tucker Act (28 U.S.C. § 1498) prevented owners of patented processes from suing the federal government for certain types of unauthorized uses of their patents. The Zoltek court also held that patents are not secured as constitutional "private property" under the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment. At the time, many judges and lawyers thought that these statutory and constitutional loopholes for patent-owners were insignificant; at worst, they argued, this benefits only military contractors and the like.
Fast forward four years and the federal government now owns the "new GM." It was inconceivable in 2006 that Uncle Sam soon would be in the business of making cars, not to mention in the businesses of banking and insurance, setting salaries of CEOs, purchasing mortgages, etc., etc. This dramatic turn of events means that court decisions that once seemed exceedingly narrow have acquired new breadth and scope. This essay thus explores how Zoltek justifies extensive infringement of U.S. patents by GM and other firms now working for the federal government. Although it is arguable that denying patent-owners their constitutional rights is insignificant in any situation, the events since 2006 at least suggest that many people spoke too soon when they claimed that Zoltek was of little import or concern.