UnIntellectual Property (UnIP): Copyright or Patent Rights in Giant Plunger Idea

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of a pro se complaint that alleged oil giant defendant, BP, stole her intellectual property by misappropriating her copyrighted or patented ideas for stopping the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  The Complaint was based upon Plaintiff having submitted ideas, in response to a request for Alternative Response Technology (ART) proposals, to address the spill.  Plaintiff claims that she had filed a provisional patent application with the USPTO (although it was never granted) related to her giant plunger idea.  After seeing pictures, provided via the media, of her second idea submission, namely a plunger device, being used by BP, she filed suit.

The Fifth Circuit, in a very short opinion, affirmed the district court’s dismissal.  The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana had held that Plaintiff failed to plead a copyright claim.  In doing so, it noted: “The Court cannot reasonably infer that any defendant copied her alleged work of authorship or used her idea based on the fact that she saw “media pictures” of what she alleges was her work/idea.”  It concluded: “Whether under a patent infringement, copyright infringement, or general “theft of intellectual property” rubric, the complaint fails to state a claim because it is “an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.”

Was this a case that would have come out differently had the Plaintiff retained counsel?  It is hard to tell if there was something more to this “plunger idea” and any facts that could show BP or others misappropriated it in some way.  Regardless, I hope the thing worked.

Richards v. BP Exploration, Case No. 12-30508 (5th Cir., Apr. 3, 2013) (per curiam).


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