Why Google and the Movie Industry are Fighting over Dental Aligners

The battle between Invisalign and ClearCorrect, two companies that make essentially the same product, is stirring up all sorts of legal dust in global industries far and wide.

Let's be clear (no pun intended), this isn't about straight teeth at all.

The clash is over patents, digital imports and the jurisdiction of the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC). It all started when ClearCorrect, a competitor to Invisalign, started making dental aligners in 2012.

Here are some of the important facts to understand about the case: ClearCorrect has a U.S.-based company and another company based in Pakistan. The U.S. company makes impressions of patients' teeth, scans them and sends the digital data to the Pakistani company. The Pakistani company then modifies the data, sends it back to the U.S. company, who then uses the modified data to create the patients' alignment devices. What's important to note is that no physical objects are imported from Pakistan to the U.S.—it's all digital information.

Align Technology, the creators of Invisalign, sued ClearCorrect, stating that the ClearCorrect devices infringe on several of their patents. The ITC, the agency responsible for adjudicating cases involving imports that allegedly infringe intellectual property rights, ordered ClearCorrect to cease and desist. In return, ClearCorrect took the ITC to federal court arguing, among other contentions, that the agency has no jurisdiction over the import of digital articles, i.e. non-tangible items. That's ClearCorrect v. ITC.

This is where Google, Apple and the movie and recording industries started to get involved. Google and Apple are siding with ClearCorrect; their stance is that the ITC is overreaching and their decision sets a dangerous precedent for the control of all sorts of digital "items"—down goes a free and open Internet, they argue. Conversely, the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America are on the side of Align. From their perspective, they see the ITC decision as giving them more legal leverage to protect the industries they represent from piracy—including the exchange of digital items.

A Court of Appeals in the Federal Circuit heard oral arguments in ClearCorrect v. ITC in August (2015), and a decision isn't expected for another several months. Who knows, the case could make its way to the Supreme Court.

Now who says dentistry doesn't impact international trade and the Internet?

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