When James Rhodes took Tony Stark's armour in Iron Man 2, wasn't that stealing a patented product and if so why didn't Stark take legal action against the US government?

Pepper Potts was heard speaking to a lawyer about it when Stark visited her in her office but we know nothing ever came of that since the government still has the armour in Iron Man 3!

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    As we learned in "Armageddon", the government stole they key to the patent office :) Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 17:47
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    I can believe in fist-sized fusion reactors, fusion-powered flight, strong AI, synthetic transuranic elements and a human-wearable suit that includes all of that and fits in a suitcase, but that the government would give that up because of a judge's ruling? Please.
    – Beta
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 21:02
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    He actually kind of wanted Rhodes to have the suit: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/15022/…
    – HorusKol
    Commented Apr 17, 2014 at 0:03
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    Sue the United States Government? Don't make me laugh...
    – IQAndreas
    Commented Apr 17, 2014 at 4:26
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    I think all this patent stuff is a bit of a red herring, since this question is dealing with a physical object rather than the underlying technology. Regular property laws would come into it more than intellectual property laws.
    – evilsoup
    Commented Apr 17, 2014 at 21:09

5 Answers 5


You can't sue the US federal government unless they consent to being sued, under the doctrine of Sovereign Immunity.

  • Plus...................with RARE exceptions (emphasis), when have you ever heard of someone winning a lawsuit against the government? Almost never. That's alomst always a loss, and typically symoblic in nature. Even for someone like Stark. Commented Jan 9, 2019 at 18:24
  • Further, the USA government VERY COMMONLY "steals" patents from USA corporations, and gives defense corporations (Raytheon, Boeing, etc...) permission to use the stolen patents, with zero compensation, and has successfully defended themselves in court on this issue on many occasions.
    – Jamin Grey
    Commented Dec 28, 2019 at 0:35

Even if Stark sued the government and won, the most he could have received is reasonable compensation for his costs and/or damages. Under US patent law, he can't stop the US government from using a patented product if it so chooses.

It is also possible Stark had not patented some of the suit components. In order to receive a patent, you must make the details of your invention public. The invention could then be copied, for example by supervillains who do not care about being sued for patent infringement. Instead, Stark might effectively be keeping the suit as a trade secret. In that case he would have even less protection against the government using the suit's technology.

(I Am Not A Lawyer, but a quick Google indicates the law is pretty clear on these points.)

  • 1
    Oh I see, I was confused by the difference between a copyrighted piece of intellectual property and a patented product. Yes it is unlikely that Stark patented the armour and the government would have only compensated him financially.
    – Nobody
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 21:59
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    @HappyBirthdayRoboto "The Empire will compensate for your losses."
    – Zibbobz
    Commented Apr 17, 2014 at 13:34
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    I'd say that it's pretty clear Stark relies on being smart and creative enough to overcome his recklessness...I'm not seeing Tony going through the hoops of getting stuff patented. Besides, if Tony Stark decides he doesn't want the U.S. government to have War Machine, he's not going to bother with lawyers...he's going to fly up to Rhodey, zap War Machine, and fly home. Commented Apr 17, 2014 at 14:41
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    Patents can be classified as national security under §115, 35 U.S.C. 181 of the USPTO Manual of Patent Examining Procedure. This happens after filing, by a separate examination board appointed for such review. Commented Apr 17, 2014 at 15:20
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    Also, even if Tony patented the idea of the suit as the first thing he did when he got back from Afghanistan in the first Iron Man, most likely he still wouldn't have actually received a patent, up to the "present" day (Captain America 2 or the latest episode of S.H.I.E.L.D. I guess). Patents take years to get, even for obviously-novel technology like the Iron Man suit. That's why you see "Patent Pending" on things all the time. Sure, he'd get the patent eventually, and then be able to sue anyone who copied the suit while it was pending, but by then would it matter?
    – KRyan
    Commented Apr 17, 2014 at 17:03

He may or may not have sued. Lawsuits, especially between large corporations or the government, drag on for years and years through the various trials and appeals. It is likely that if a lawsuit was in progress, by the time of the events of Iron Man 3 it was still in progress. Just because it was not mentioned in IM3, doesn't mean it wasn't going on.

  • 5
    See Apple vs Samsung (still about Galaxy SII) Commented Apr 17, 2014 at 2:25

The suit wasn't stolen. Watch the movie more closely, during the donut shop scene it was very subtlety revealed that Tony Stark allowed Rhodey to take the suit because it was his legacy. Tony was under the impression that he was dying, and it was also revealed in the same scene that he was just giving stuff away because of that. It was stated that there were security protocols that prevented unauthorized usage, but Rhodey was able to access and use the suit because Tony made him an authorized user for when he died because, like I stated before, he was under the impression that he would die very soon.

  • Whenever a new MCU movie is coming out I rewatch all the films in order, something of a tradition, so I saw them quite recently. By your logic when I tell a friend "make yourself at home" it means I can't press charges against me if he steals from my house. But that's ridiculous. Also Stark didn't make Rhodey an authorised user it's not in the movie. Rhodey just took the armour. Fury and Widow confirm this in the donut shop scene you spoke of.
    – Nobody
    Commented Jul 20, 2018 at 19:39
  • Also when Stark goes to the office afterwards we see and hear Potts on the phone telling her lawyers that this was an "unlawful seizure" but apparently no legal action was taken. Truth be told we don't know how the law in the MCU is different from the law in real life.
    – Nobody
    Commented Jul 20, 2018 at 19:52

What does being patented have to do with it? Theft is theft. Patents, and trade secret law would more come in to play when legally going after Hammer for stealing his design. As far as legally going after the government for taking the armor, he wouldn't get very far. The government would claim eminent domain. Eminent domain can be for public safety concerns which the armor surely is.

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