By Dennis Crouch
Revision Military, Inc. v. Balboa Manufacturing Co. (Fed. Cir. 2012)
In the US, federalism is the term that we generally use to highlight the complex relationship between state governments and the federal government. In patent litigation we might use the expanded term federal-circuit-ism to describe the Federal Circuit's relationship with both state courts and the regional circuit courts of appeal. Here, the Federal Circuit applied its principles of federal-circuit-ism to hold that preliminary injunctions in patent cases are patent specific and therefore require application of Federal Circuit law rather than the law of the relevant regional circuit court of appeal.
The Case: Revision's design patents are directed toward protective eyewear for hunting and other gun sports. Patent Nos. D. 537,098 and D. 620,039. Revision sued Balboa and requested a preliminary injunction to stop the ongoing alleged infringement. After a hearing, the district court sided with Balboa – holding that Revision had not provided a "clear and substantial" likelihood of success on the merits as required under the Second Circuit law of preliminary injunctive relief. The Federal Circuit has an easier standard for approving preliminary relief in patent cases – requiring only a preponderance of the evidence – and the lower court erred in not applying that standard.
The district court found that the patentee's infringement case lacked sufficient merit to meet the "clear and substantial" standard. On remand, the lower court will be asked to decide whether it meets the Federal Circuit's lower standard.
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While the appellate court does a fine job of criticizing the district court judgment, one interesting optical mote in Judge Newman's written opinion is that it fails to mention the leading Supreme Court case on injunctive relief, eBay v. MercExchange. That case is important here. A major element of eBay is the Supreme Court's suggestion that the law of injunctive relief in patent cases should be the same law that is applied in other areas of law.
According to well-established principles of equity, a plaintiff seeking a permanent injunction must satisfy a four-factor test before a court may grant such relief. . . . These familiar principles apply with equal force to disputes arising under the Patent Act. As this Court has long recognized, "a major departure from the long tradition of equity practice should not be lightly implied." Nothing in the Patent Act indicates that Congress intended such a departure.
Federal Circuit precedent on applying its own law to preliminary injunction standards reaches back at least to Hybritech Inc. v. Abbott Labs., 849 F.2d 1446 (Fed. Cir. 1988). In that case, the Federal Circuit held that its own law (rather than that of a regional circuit) controls the grant or denial preliminary injunctions. In my view, eBay places this notion in serious question.
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The second half of the opinion looks at the methodology for judging infringement. Here, the appellate court criticized the lower court's decision for unduly focusing on individual elements that "stand out as dissimilar" rather than how those differences would impact an ordinary observer considering the design as a whole and its similarity to the accused device and with reference to the closest prior art.