Ecolab v. FMC Corp. (Fed. Cir. 2009)
Both Ecolab and FMC sell chemical mixtures used by beef and poultry factories to help protect raw meat from “pathogens, such as E. coli and salmonella.” Both parties hold patents on their mixtures, and in litigation each asserted infringement against the other. A jury awarded both parties damages for infringement. However, the district court refused to issue permanent injunctive relief. On appeal, the Federal Circuit invalidated Ecolab’s claims and then focused on whether the district court erred in refusing to grant an injunction to stop Ecolab from infringing.
Injunctive relief is awarded according to the traditional principles of equity. In eBay v. MercExchange, the Supreme Court interpreted those principles to require a patentee seeking injunctive relief to demonstrate “(1) that it has suffered an irreparable injury; (2) that remedies available at law, such as monetary damages, are inadequate to compensate for that injury; (3) that, considering the balance of hardships between the plaintiff and defendant, a remedy in equity is warranted; and (4) that the public interest would not be disserved by a permanent injunction.”
In this case, the district court did not explicitly consider any of the eBay factors. “That is an abuse of discretion.” In this instance, the Federal Circuit refused to consider whether – based on the fact at hand – an injunction would be proper. Rather, on remand the district court must consider whether relief is warranted based on a consideration of the four listed factors.
- While construing claims, the decision distinguishes Chef America’s statement that claims are construed “as written, not as the patentees wish they had written it.” “Because the claim language at issue in Chef America was unambiguous, that case is distinguishable from the present case. In the present case, the definition of “sanitize” is ambiguous in that it does not indicate when consumption is to take place . . . and the district court did not err when it construed the term “sanitize” to mean that the treated meat has become safe for human handling and post-cooking consumption.”