As for those University of Chicago days, the shadow of Richard Posner and his law and economics orientation was broadly cast over the law school. The [then] Professor Scalia was a bit of a lone intellectual force, conservative in a sui generis fashion. But for this Kat, it was not his razor-sharp mind or tongue that was most attractive (goodness, the law school was replete with faculty brilliance), but the special attraction of his personality. In a word, Professor Scalia was approachable and affable, and this Kat took advantage on a number of occasions to meet him in his office to schmooze (maybe he would have used a different term, being the son of a Sicilian-born academic specializing in Romance languages) on various topics of mutual interest. In an environment where intellect seemed to trump personality nearly at every turn, Professor Scalia was a welcome exception. Mind you, it was not all love and kisses. This Kat recalls Professor Scalia upbraiding us for less than stellar proofreading of citations—"You have to do your donkey work." He was right. The force of his personality appears to have carried him throughout his career, and his personal friendship with fellow Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, his polar opposite as a member of the Court’s liberal wing, is legendary.
Against that background, this Kat found particularly interesting Justice Scalia's decision in the case of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Samara Brothers, Inc., which he wrote for a unanimous Court. There, the Court held, reversing the judgment below of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, that in an action for infringement of unregistered trade dress/product design under section 43(a) of the Lanham Act, proof of secondary meaning is necessary. The decision was characterized by an absence of the verbal fire and brimstone that characterized Justice Scalia's opinions in so many other areas. Rather, he emphasizes the importance of a balancing of interests in rejecting the claim that inherent distinctiveness is appropriate, writing that—
The fact that product design almost invariably serves purposes other than source identification not only renders inherent distinctiveness problematic; it also renders application of an inherent-distinctiveness principle more harmful to other consumer interests. Consumers should not be deprived of the benefits of competition with regard to the utilitarian and esthetic purposes that product design ordinarily serves by a rule of law that facilitates plausible threats of suit against new entrants based upon alleged inherent distinctiveness.Scalia the staunch ideologue seems to have gone missing.
That said, this Kat was struck by Justice Scalia ’s joining liberal justices Kagan, Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Breyer (as well as centrist Justice Kennedy), in the 6-3 decision given by the Supreme Court in June 2015 in the case of Kimble v. Marvel Entertainment. The issue in that case was whether the Court should overrule its decision given in a case 50 years ago (Brulotte v. Thys Co.), that a patentee cannot continue to receive royalties post-expiry. The majority ruled, based on stare decisis, that the moving party had failed to meet the high bar for disturbing the Court's previous decision on this issue. This Kat has surmised that the four liberal justices had been driven by the liberal hostility to patent overreach. In this Kat's view, such a concern would not have troubled Justice Scalia. Rather, he saw the Court's previous decision as consistent with the understanding of the patent right when it was made part of the US Constitution. To now rule otherwise would do harm to this original meaning. Here, at least, IP and Justice Scalia's originalism might have found common, albeit tacit ground.