Blonder Tongue Laboratories, Inc. v. University of Illinois Foundation

PETITIONER: Blonder Tongue Laboratories, Inc.
RESPONDENT: University of Illinois Foundation
LOCATION: Edward Coolidge's Home

DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1970-1971)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

CITATION: 402 US 313 (1971)
ARGUED: Jan 14, 1971
DECIDED: May 03, 1971

Facts of the case


Media for Blonder Tongue Laboratories, Inc. v. University of Illinois Foundation

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 14, 1971 in Blonder Tongue Laboratories, Inc. v. University of Illinois Foundation

Warren E. Burger:

-- arguments next number 338, Blonder-Tongue Laboratories against the University of Illinois Foundation.

Mr. Rines, you may proceed whenever you're ready.

Robert H. Rines:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

To take one moment to introduce my father, teacher, and partner Mr. David Rines, my co-counsel from Chicago, Mr. Richard Phillips.

This case involves a conflict of decisions between the Eighth Circuit and the Seventh Circuit with regard to the validity of a patent to Isbell dealing with television antennas, the type that I'm sure, Your Honors have seen cluttering our landscape on the roofs of houses which are very necessary in order to get good television reception in the homes.

I have here typical antenna of the type I'm sure you’ve seen on the roofs, involving what we call dipoles, nothing magical about that, just little rods which are tuned and corrected in terms to dimensions and direction to receive from the television transmitting stations the signals that we tune into our television.

In the Eighth Circuit, both the District Court and the Court of Appeals found the Isbell patent which is owned by the University of Illinois Foundation to be invalid for obviousness in the light of the teaching of the prior art.

The University of Illinois Foundation filed not just one suit, in the Winegard case which is at Eighth Circuit case, but filed the suit against Blonder-Tongue, a New Jersey Corporation in Chicago by suing a customer and joining Blonder-Tongue and a whole host of other manufacturers throughout the land.

When a decision went against them in the Winegard District Court and while they were appealing to the Court of Appeals of the Eighth Circuit, the University of Illinois Foundation pursued the suit against Blonder-Tongue in New Jersey, on exactly the same patent, there was also another patent involved and we went to trial before a Judge Hoffman.

One of the issues in our presentation is the fact that we were forced to this trial without the benefit of a single witness during the whole presentation of the University of Illinois' case in-chief.

As a result of the fact that when we were ready in December 18th, the trial date with our Cambridge, Massachusetts expert who’d worked over a year on this with us, with Mr. Blonder, and various customer witnesses from all over the country and myself in Boston, the judge could not hear it on the 18th and he couldn’t set a time for postponement, 19th, 20th and 21st, we still didn’t have a trial date.

The result was that the day before Christmas the trial was set for two days after Christmas and I was not able to reassemble any of my witnesses and the District Court refused to give me a few days in which to this but forced us to go to trial without any witnesses at all.

Therefore, we were not able to produce any live witnesses on the issue of whether or not the Isbell patent was or was not valid for our business or any other reason.

Potter Stewart:

The trial had originally been set in October or November, hadn't it?

Robert H. Rines:

It had been set several times, but then was postponed Mr. Justice Potter, until December 18th.

Potter Stewart:

What caused the postponement?

Robert H. Rines:

The prior trial of Judge Hoffman had not been finished.

Potter Stewart:

I beg your pardon.

Robert H. Rines:

A prior trial of the District Court had had not been finished, so it was postponed to December 18th.

Potter Stewart:

Just one continuance?

Robert H. Rines:


No, there were several during, at the request of the parties, at the request of the court, this is about six or seven postponement, but we’re all zero it in for December 18th, we were all there.

Therefore, the record that has been produced in this case is only the documents that we were able to put in before Judge Hoffman which were the same documents before the District Court in the Eighth Circuit litigation, the Winegard litigation and we had to argue therefore from those documents without the benefit of any expert or any witnesses at all, these issues of obviousness and validity.

Byron R. White:

How about in the Eighth Circuit, had you had oral testimony?

Robert H. Rines:

Yes, there was.

The other side, the defendant had a right and did produce an expert and the court --

Byron R. White:

Did you?

Robert H. Rines:

Wasn’t in that.

No, I'm a different defendant.

Byron R. White:

That’s alright.