Tuesday, April 18, 2006

"The Butter of the Poor"

In patents, we are reading Vitamin Technologists, Inc. v. Wisconsin Alumni Research Found. (WARF), a case where the fact which seems to sway the court is that the patent holder (essentially the University of Wisconsin) is not allowing its patent (a process which causes yeast in dairy products to produce vitamin D) to be used on margarine.

"Why does this matter?" you ask.

Well, I'm glad you asked, ficticious inquirer. Because, dear reader, vitamin D cures rickets (or more precisely, Rickets is caused by vitamin D deficiency), and because in the 1940s (when this case was decided), Rickets was most prevalent in the lower class, referred to in a very un-PC way by the court as "the poor."

"OK, but where is the connection to margarine?"

Again, excellent question, my non-existant friend. Because, margarine, or "oleomargarine" as the court calls it, is "one of the foods of the poor"1 and better yet "the butter of the poor." The court also seems swayed by the fact that that patent is held by a university in Wisconsin, "a state of powerful vested interests in dairy enterprises" where the state legislature loves "imposing heavy restrictions upon the competition of oleomargarine with butter."2

Yep, this case was decided on whether Badger U. can keep poor people from eating Rickets-free fake butter. An actual, for real decision of a United States Court of Appeals came down to FAKE BUTTER and RICKETS.

This case, and an invention I wrote about earlier, are two of the reasons why I love patent law.

Update: OK, I should really read cases more carefully before I post about them. Apparently all the great fake-butter language was just pointless dicta to a much more mundane invalidity-of-the-patent holding. This was still kind of extraordinary in that the court intentionally went out of its way to write a shit-load of dicta about FAKE BUTTER and RICKETS.

1 When I read "food of the poor" I immediately pictured poor, homeless or orphaned children (like Tiny Tim or Oliver Twist) sitting down to eat a big tub of Parkay. "You can't eat your pudding if you don't eat your oleo! How can you have any pudding if you don't eat your oleo!"
2 I could not make up this kind of language.


At 5:35 PM, Blogger Drewcatt said...

The Great State of Wisconsin will not apologize for its vested interest in dairy products!


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