TRAE SMITH: INVENTOR – INTERNALLY ILLUMINATED FOOTWEAR
Trae Smith is the inventor of the patented internally illuminated Firebugs shoe line, the first real creative innovation in lighted shoes in three decades. The Firebug line of shoes was immediately successful, with several major shoe companies licensing right after the first press release and Trae’s own sales very strong.
Unfortunately, a Berkshire Hathaway-owned company and competitor stole the idea and technology. Trae sued for patent infringement, and the infringer did what is expected in the current environment – it asked the PTAB (Patent Trial and Appeal Board) to invalidate the patent through an IPR (Inter Partes Review). The result was also typical. The PTAB found the invention obvious and therefore unpatentable. This was after reviewing the same prior inventions that the Patent Examiner had reviewed when finding the invention non-obvious and patentable.
On appeal, the Court of Appeals of the Federal Circuit actually found that the PTAB had erred in their decision. However, they also ruled that that error was harmless to Trae, so the case was not sent back to the PTAB and the decision stood. This is a good example of how our current system, particularly since passage of the America Invents Act of 2011, no longer protects inventors and their patent rights, as guaranteed in our U.S. Constitution.