Do You Have The Right To Sue: Understanding Contract Provisions In The Context Of Litigation

Written by Michael Davitz, Partner at Axinn, Veltrop & Harkrider and Practice Center Contributor, and his associates Josephine Liu and Tara Rahemba.

A patent grants the patentee the right to exclude others from making, using, selling, offering to sell or importing the patented invention into the United States.  35 U.S.C. § 271(a).  It follows that when this right to exclude is violated by an infringer, the “patentee” has the right to bring a “civil action for infringement of [its] patent,” i.e., standing to sue for patent infringement.  35 U.S.C.  § 281.

Recently, the identity of the “patentee” as defined, has been called into question.  The Federal Circuit has made it clear that nuances in the provisions and language used in patent licensing and assignment agreements can be critical in determining whether or not an inventor, licensee or assignee has standing to sue another party for patent infringement.  Slight imperfections or even subtle deviations from what was actually intended or desired by the parties can have a profound impact on their right to sue over the patent.  It is therefore imperative that practitioners are knowledgeable about the effects particular language and provisions have on a standing determination in order to ensure that their clients, whether individual inventors or corporations, licensors or licensees, preserve their right to sue for patent infringement. (more…)

Attorneys’ Fees Under Section 285: A Double Standard in Patent Litigation

By Brandon Baum ( Partner at Mayer Brown LLP and Practice Center Contributor) and Jonathan Helfgott[i]

Under 35 U.S.C. § 285 (“§ 285”), “[t]he court in exceptional cases may award attorney fees to the prevailing party.”  Although the statutory language does not differentiate between prevailing plaintiffs and defendants, the Federal Circuit has developed substantially different standards for determining whether a case is “exceptional” depending on which party prevails.

In the context of a prevailing plaintiff, a court may find a case “exceptional” by showing that the defendant engaged in “willful infringement.” Minks v. Polaris Indus., 546 F.3d 1364, 1375 (Fed. Cir. 2008) (upholding exceptional case determination and award of attorneys’ fees based on jury finding of willful infringement).  “An express finding of willful infringement is a sufficient basis for classifying a case as ‘exceptional,’ and indeed, when a trial court denies attorney fees in spite of a finding of willful infringement, the court must explain why the case is not ‘exceptional’ within the meaning of the statute.”  Modine Mfg. Co. v. Allen Group, Inc., 917 F.2d 538, 543 (Fed. Cir. 1990); Tate Access Floors, Inc. v. Maxcess Techs., Inc., 222 F.3d 958, 972 (Fed. Cir. 2000) (same).  To demonstrate willful infringement, the patentee must show “that the infringer acted despite an objectively high likelihood that its actions constituted infringement of a valid patent.” In re Seagate Technology, LLC, 497 F.3d 1360, 1371 (Fed. Cir. 2007).   As the Federal Circuit made clear in Seagate, this is an objective test under which an infringer may be found to have acted willfully when it knew or should have known of the risk. Id. (more…)