A patent is an exclusive right. This means that the owner of a patent can prevent others from engaging in activities that are covered by an issued patent. But as is true with any right, a patent is only worth something if the owner is willing to take action to preserve the rights and litigate against those who are treading on the rights granted. In the United States, that means litigation in federal district court, which can easily cost millions of dollars.
Today, given the climate within the industry, being willing to take action when infringement is suspected is only the first hurdle. Yes, the decision to undertake litigation is a difficult one regardless of whether it is made by a company or an individual. Attention is diverted from other endeavors and opportunities, and there is a very real financial cost associated with litigating a dispute. Litigation is not free.
On December 28, 2015, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed a $63.7 million jury verdict against Cisco Systems. The Court, in an opinion by Chief Judge Prost (pictured), concluded that substantial evidence did not support the jury’s finding that Cisco’s devices, when used, perform the “running” step of the asserted claims.
Commil owns U.S. Patent No. 6,430,395, which relates to a method of providing faster and more reliable handoffs of mobile devices from one base station to another as a mobile device moves throughout a network area. In 2007, Commil brought a patent infringement action against Cisco, which makes and sells wireless networking equipment. In a first jury trial, Commil alleged that Cisco directly infringed the ’395 patent by making and using networking equipment, and also that Cisco induced its customers to infringe by selling them the infringing equipment. The jury concluded that Commil’s patent was valid, that Cisco was liable for direct but not induced infringement, and awarded $3.7 million in damages. Commil then filed a motion for a new trial on induced infringement and damages, which the district court granted. The second jury concluded that Cisco was liable for induced infringement and awarded $63.7 million in damages.
Several weeks ago, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit issued a decision in Dynamic Drinkware v. National Graphics, which asked the Court to determine who has the burden with respect to whether a provisional patent application sufficiently supports a later-issued patent so as to become effective prior art as of the provisional filing date in an inter partes review.
National Graphics owns U.S. Patent 6,635,196, which is directed to making molded plastic articles bearing a “lenticular” image. The ’196 patent issued on October 21, 2003, from an application filed on November 22, 2000. The ’196 patent claims the benefit of U.S. Provisional Application 60/211,112, filed on June 12, 2000.
Dynamic petitioned the PTO for inter partes review of the ’196 patent. In its petition, Dynamic argued that claims 1, 8, 12, and 14 of the ’196 patent were anticipated by U.S. Patent 7,153,555 (“Raymond”). The application for Raymond was filed on May 5, 2000, claiming the benefit of U.S. Provisional Application 60/182,490 (the “provisional application” or “Raymond provisional application”), filed on February 15, 2000. The PTO granted the petition in part, and instituted trial on claims 1 and 12.
Recently, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, sitting en banc, decided SCA Hygiene Products Aktiebolag v. First Quality Baby Products, which required the Court to determine the continued applicability of the laches defense for patent infringement actions. This issue presents itself in light of the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Petrella v. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc., 134 S. Ct. 1962 (2014), which determined that laches is not a defense to a copyright infringement action brought within the statute of limitation.
Petrella involved an assertion that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s (“MGM”) 1980 film “Raging Bull” infringed a copyright in a 1963 screenplay authored by Frank Petrella. Frank Petrella’s daughter renewed the copyright in 1991, but did not contact MGM until seven years later. Over the next two years, Petrella and MGM exchanged letters concerning Petrella’s copyright claim. Petrella then went silent, and did not file suit until January 6, 2009, about nine years after her last correspondence with MGM. MGM moved for summary judgment based on laches, which the district court granted and the Ninth Circuit affirmed.
On June 12, 2015, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit issued a decision in Ariosa Diagnostics, Inc. v. Sequenom, Inc. The Federal Circuit decision has been widely criticized (see here and here, for example). Sequenom has asked for reconsideration en banc, with 12 separate amici filers in support of Sequenom’s petition for reconsideration en banc.
The original panel decision dealt with whether a non-invasive method for detecting paternally inherited cell-free fetal DNA (“cffDNA”) from a blood sample of a pregnant woman was patentable. See U.S. Patent No. 6,258,540. The district court ruled that the method claims were patent ineligible and the Federal Circuit agreed. Judge Linn was uncomfortable with the decision, but wrote in a concurrence that he thought that the outcome was mandated by the “sweeping language of the test set out in Mayo.”
Sequenom has retained Tom Goldstein, co-founder of the SCOTUS blog, to handle the appeal. Goldstein has served as counsel in over 100 Supreme Court cases over the last 15 years. His presence sends a clear message that Sequenom is heading to the Supreme Court if they do not prevail in an en banc rehearing.