Supreme Court says district courts have discretion to enhance patent damages

In a unanimous decision delivered by Chief Justice John Roberts (left) in Halo Electronics, Inc. v. Pulse Electronics, Inc.the United States Supreme Court recently did what much of the patent world expected it would do; they overruled the Federal Circuit’s “unduly rigid” test for the awarding of enhanced damages for willful damages put in place by In re Seagate Technology, LLC, 497 F. 3d 1360, 1371 (2007)(en banc).

Under Seagate, in order for a patent owner to be entitled to receive enhanced damages of up to triple the original damages award, the patent owner first had to “show by clear and convincing evidence that the infringer acted despite an objectively high likelihood that its actions constituted infringement of a valid patent.” Then, the patentee was required to demonstrate, again by clear and convincing evidence, that the risk of infringement “was either known or so obvious that it should have been known to the accused infringer.” The Supreme Court held that this test was not consistent with the express language of 35 U.S.C. §284.

In the Supreme Court’s recent decisions in Highmark Inc. v. Allcare Health Management Systems, Inc.134 S. Ct. 1744 (2014) and Octane Fitness, LLC v. ICON Health & Fitness, Inc.134 S. Ct. 1749 (2014) the Court, interpreting 35 U.S.C. § 285, found that there was no textual support in the statute to impose an onerous, rigid test for the awarding of attorneys’ fees to a prevailing party in a patent infringement lawsuit. Most notably, the Supreme Court explained to the Federal Circuit that they misinterpreted a key ruling of the Supreme Court when they created their test, which would result in attorneys’ fees almost never being awarded.

That same exact misinterpretation was at the heart of Federal Circuit case law relating to an award of enhanced damages to a victorious patent owner, which was why so many believed that the Supreme Court would grant district courts the same discretion with respect to enhanced damages that they were given with respect to attorneys’ fees in 2014 in Highmark and Octane Fitness.

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Rovi sues Comcast for patent infringement of TV guide patents

On April 1, 2016, Rovi Corporation filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Comcast in the Eastern District of Texas, Marshall Division. In the complaint, which is quite detailed and very long (174 pages), Rovi is asking for a preliminary injunction, a finding that Comcast’s infringement is willful and deliberate, a finding that the case is exceptional and attorneys fees’ are appropriate, as well as damages for the infringement.

The lawsuit alleges that 12 years ago, Comcast took a license to Rovi’s patent portfolio, but that license expired on March 31, 2016, without being renewed. Rovi says that Comcast has failed to remove any of its products and services from the market and also continues to provide those products and services, all of which are now infringing because of the expiration of the patent license agreement.

“We disagree with Rovi’s accusations and intend to defend the cases vigorously,” said Jenni Moyer, Senior Director of Corporate Communications for Network & Operations at Comcast.  “Beyond that, we can’t comment on pending litigation.”

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SCOTUS takes Samsung appeal in Apple design patent infringement case

On Monday, March 21, 2016, the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear the matter of Samsung Electronics v. Apple, Inc., a dispute between two giant technology companies that at its core relates to how much Samsung owes Apple for infringing certain design patents.

So far, these two technology giants have shown little interest in playing nice. A jury found that Samsung infringed Apple design patents, Apple utility patents and also diluted Apple’s trade dresses. The infringed design patents are U.S. Design Patent Nos. D618,677 (“D’677 patent”), D593,087 (“D’087 patent”), and D604,305 (“D’305 patent”), which claim certain design elements embodied in Apple’s iPhone. The infringed utility patents are U.S. Patent Nos. 7,469,381 (“’381 patent”), 7,844,915 (“’915 patent”), and 7,864,163 (“’163 patent”), which claim certain features in the iPhone’s user interface. The diluted trade dresses are Trademark Registration No. 3,470,983 (“’983 trade dress”) and an unregistered trade dress defined in terms of certain elements in the configuration of the iPhone.

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SCOTUS hears enhanced damages oral arguments February 23, 2016

On Tuesday, February 23, 2016, the United States Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Halo Electronics, Inc. v. Pulse Electronics, Inc. (14-1513) and Stryker Corporation v. Zimmer, Inc. (14-1520), which have been consolidated for appeal. These two cases will force the Court to dive into one of the most thorny patent litigation issues – the issue of enhanced damages for willful patent infringement.

The statute in question says very little that is relevant, merely saying that the district court judge “may increase the damages up to three times the amount found or assessed.” 35 U.S.C. § 284. Simple and straightforward enough, but over the years the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has issued rulings that make it virtually impossible for a victorious patent owner to ever receive enhanced damages. The rigid structure of the enhanced damages test has effectively removed the permissive and discretionary language of the statute, which just says that the district court judge “may increase the damages.”

In the Supreme Court’s recent decisions in Highmark Inc. v. Allcare Health Management Systems, Inc., 134 S. Ct. 1744 (2014) and Octane Fitness, LLC v. ICON Health & Fitness, Inc., 134 S. Ct. 1749 (2014) the Court, interpreting 35 U.S.C. § 285, found that there was no textual support in the statute to impose an onerous, rigid test for the awarding of attorneys’ fees to a prevailing party in a patent infringement lawsuit. Most notably, the Supreme Court explained to the Federal Circuit that they misinterpreted a key ruling of the Supreme Court when they created the test that would result in attorneys’ fees never being award. That same exact misinterpretation is at the heart of Federal Circuit case law relating to the awarding of enhanced damages to a victorious patent owner.

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CAFC says laches still a defense to patent infringement

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.

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