Is it legal to buy a product wholesale or one meant for retail, repackage the product in an easier to use fashion, and sell it?
2 attorney answers
Mr. Ballard's answer linked above is a good one and provides good examples. Another approach is based on a some Supreme Court trademark cases nearly a century ago. It was OK to collect old spark plugs, recondition them and re-sell them, as long as there was an adequate "disclaimer" explaining what was done and their condition. It was OK to buy bulk cosmetics and repackage into smaller containers. But it was not OK to buy and re-sell product from overseas that the buyer knew were subject to a US trademark owned by someone other than the seller. These have been refined to the "no modification" rule -- you can re-sell as long as the product is the same. Whether repackaging is modification isn't necessarily an absolute. Patents also have a "first sale" rule -- once the item is physically sold it cqn be re-sold, but you can't make a new one. You're right to think about combinations -- most patents are for things that are a combination of some other things, whether it's nuts and bolts, chemicals, or wires, resistors and capacitors. The only way to evaluate is to run a patent search and see if your combination is the subject of a claim of a valid and enforeceable patent.
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Attorney Daniel Ballard has provided a good response to a similar question.
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