In a stunning decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the Big Sur, California-based soda giant can be held liable for using the patented invention of the world’s largest soda maker, but not for its alleged infringement of the invention.
The decision was made Thursday by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which was made up of two liberal judges and three conservative judges.
It is the first time a case on a patent dispute has been heard on the court’s docket in decades.
The case involved a patent application from a company called Big Sur Beverage Co., owned by Big Sur billionaire Shervin Pishevar, which had a monopoly on the sale of soda, coffee and other beverages to consumers.
The application was filed in 1992, but the company was acquired by another company in 1997.
The suit against Big Sur alleges that the soda giant, which has about $6 billion in annual revenue, “intentionally and with knowledge” infringed the patent, which is the basis for many of its products.
The lawsuit says the patent was granted in 1998 and “never was used.”
The case was brought by American consumers who allege that Big Sur is not responsible for its actions.
The suit says the plaintiffs are “victims of a corporate conspiracy to defraud them of billions of dollars in profits” and that Big Water’s monopoly was an unfair advantage.
The ruling says Big Sur should be held responsible for the company’s alleged violation of the soda company’s patent.
“The defendant’s claims of infringement are too broad and too general to meet the definition of patent infringement, and its allegations about the scope of the defendant’s infringement are not supported by a sound factual basis,” the court wrote in the ruling.
The three liberal judges, Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, sided with the plaintiffs.
The three conservative justices, Anthony Kennedy, Elena Kagan and Samuel Alito, joined the three liberal justices.
The court held that the patent infringement could be assessed against Big Water and that a jury could consider the evidence.
“While plaintiffs’ allegations are not sufficient to establish a direct and proximate link between plaintiff and defendant, plaintiffs do allege that defendants acted with knowledge that plaintiff had infringed plaintiff’s patent,” the ruling said.
“In sum, plaintiffs allege that defendant has not demonstrated that defendants engaged in a willful and wanton conduct in relation to Big Sur’s use of the patented design.”
The ruling was a blow to the Big Sugar giant, but it also was an important victory for American consumers, who have long demanded the soda companies face legal consequences for its practices.
The companies’ business is based in a sprawling compound in the San Fernando Valley, just a few miles north of Los Angeles.
The compound has been the home of the Big Water company since 1995 and its namesake, Big Sur.
The company has become a symbol of the growing global soda industry, with the average person consuming about 2,000 calories a day from Big Sur and the world-famous Big Soda, which includes Coke, Pepsi, Dr Pepper, Tropicana, Mountain Dew and other sodas.