This opinion passing on a defendant’s motion for summary judgment as to a plaintiff’s claims of willful infringement dealt with a couple of interesting issues regarding the necessary prerequisites for a claim of willful infringement.
I had some people ask me last night at a Christmas party (because this is what we talk about at Christmas parties in Marshall) if Judge Payne’s opinion that I posted on yesterday assigning the burden with respect to marking issues analyzed the case under the Federal Circuit’s December 7 opinion in Arctic Cat v. Bombardier, No. 2017-1475. The answer is yes, it did.
And then there’s that pesky marking statute, 35 U.S.C. § 287(a). Under § 287(a), a patentee or other party selling a patented product under the patent must mark that product with the patent number to provide notice to the public that the product it may be pursuing is patented. (No, there is not a penalty for overuse of the letter “p”. Why do you ask?) If they don’t satisfy the marking statute, damages can be limited to the point that the word “presuit” will henceforth cause the patentholder uncontrolled crying fits. The issue of when a plaintiff has the burden of proving compliance with the marking statute at trial was the subject of an interesting order from across the street earlier today.
A Marshall jury in Judge Roy Payne’s court returned a verdict Thursday in favor of Ericsson in a case brought against TCL Communications.
One of my favorite things is when the same court – meaning the same judge and in approximately the same time frame so you don’t have pesky things like intervening changes in the law messing up the comparison – issues orders going opposite ways on the same question based on the different facts in the two cases. The problem is somewhat similar to naval gunnery, where a ship begins an engagement by attempting to “find the range” to a target, with salvoes of shells falling short (and throwing up splashes that are then plotted) and then long as the gunners attempt to determine what trajectory finds the target. Once they “find the range” they attempt to direct as many shells as possible to that target. Where court opinions are somewhat different is that practitioners are acutely interested in where the shots change from short to long so they know at what point a court’s denials of a motion become grants – meaning which facts cause a court that would otherwise deny a motion to consider granting it. Yesterday I posted on a very recent opinion granting attorneys fees in a patent case under Section 285 against a “bulk filer” plaintiff. Two days later, the same judge denied a motion for fees against a different “bulk filer” patent plaintiff, giving us a unique insight into what facts can make cases different. So what were the facts in this new case?
George Bernard Shaw once said “I often quote myself. It adds spice to my conversation.” In that vein, in a May 5, 2014 article on the then-new Octane Fitness case making attorneys fees easier to recover, Texas Lawyer reporter John Council wrote:
The decisions also mean that patent practitioners should be wary of where they file their patent infringement claims, especially if their clients are nonpracticing entities who attempt to enforce patent rights against accused infringers in hopes of recovering licensing fees, said Michael C. Smith, a partner in Siebman, Burg, Phillips & Smith in Marshall.
“It’s going to become a ‘loser pays’ for nonpracticing entities in courts that have not seen a lot of these cases,” Smith said. “In courts that have seen a lot of these cases, they will expect plaintiffs to drop cases if they become insurmountable. And if they pursue it after that, they will get hung.’’
(Emphasis mine because, of course). This is the case that I was talking about.
An issue patent practitioners are always interested in is when a party’s conduct in a patent infringement case meets the test for “exceptional” case status so as to justify an award of attorney’s fees under 35 U.S.C. § 285. This case presents the situation as applied to a “bulk filer” plaintiff who filed 20 cases the same day in November 2015. If that date sounds familiar, it should – that was the “Thanksgiving Special” period where hundreds of patent cases were filed in the incorrect belief that the fast-approaching December 1, 2015 amendments to pleading requirements would not apply to them.
One day a year I have to spell things right, and today was that day. Congratulations to our Marshall Chamber of Commerce team for pulling off the win at the annual Marshall – Harrison County Literacy Council spelling bee. We made it past 12 other teams, and raised some good money for local literacy efforts. As Bryan Partee said at the beginning of the competition, “when you can read, every book is a children’s book.” I like that. (To answer your question, they’re fire ants – Marshall’s Fire Ant Festival is just a few weeks away).
Speaking of spelling, “plausible” can be a pretty hard word, but a recent opinion by Judge Payne uses it in a sentence, and provides some guidance on when a motion to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim because an assertion is not “plausible” should be denied.
As readers are aware, a lot of pixels have been devoted in recent weeks to identifying when a motion to dismiss for improper venue asserting the Fourco argument pursuant to the Supreme Court’s recent decision in TC Heartland has been waived for failure to assert it when required under Rule 12(b)(6). A recent report and recommendation by Judge Payne addressed this issue in a specific set of circumstances I had not seen in an order previously.
It isn’t unusual for a case’s caption to gradually become dated, reflecting parties that have been dropped, settled or reorganized. And thus it also isn’t unusual for parties to ask the Court to amend the case caption to replace the names of parties who have passed on with the current ones. It turns out there’s a problem with that, but also a solution, as a recent opinion points out.
Assignor estoppel is an equitable doctrine that prevents one who has assigned the rights to a patent (or patent application) from later contending that what was assigned is a “nullity.” In addition to the estopped assignor, the doctrine may prevent parties in privity with the assignor from challenging the validity or enforceability of the patent. Courts have applied the doctrine to invalidity challenges based on novelty, utility, patentable invention, anticipatory matter, and the state of the art.
This was the issue presented in a recent EDTX case in which a plaintiff plugged the doctrine into a handy summary judgment template in an attempt to prevent the defendant from challenging the validity of the patent in suit. Let’s see how that worked out.