by Dennis Crouch
Sabatino Bianco, M.D. v. Globus Medical, 2:12-cv-00147 (E.D. Tex 2014) (Decision)
Federal Circuit Judge William Bryson is sitting by designation in this trade-secret misappropriation case brought by the Dr. Bianco, a Texas Neurosurgeon. According to the allegations, Bianco shared his intervertebral fusion device with Globus (under a confidentiality agreement) and then Globus began selling its version of the device. The jury sided with the doctor, finding Globus liable for trade-secret misappropriation and awarded $4.2 million in past damages. Following the jury verdict, Judge Bryson denied Bianco’s request for permanent injunctive relief. In that decision, the court concluded that three of the eBay factors pushed against such a ‘dramatic’ award: irreparable harm; balance of the hardships; and the public interest.
In his most recent opinion in the case, Judge Bryson has awarded ongoing damages of 5% of Globus’s future sales of the device (for the next 15-years). The one problem with the Judge’s decision is that he did not cite a single case where ongoing royalties have been awarded for trade secret misappropriation under Texas law. Rather, Judge Bryson analogized to the Federal Circuit’s decision in Paice LLC v. Toyota Motor Corp., 504 F.3d 1293 (Fed.Cir.2007) that permitted the award of ongoing (future) damages for patent infringement at a set reasonable royalty rate. Judge Bryson writes here:
Although this case involves trade secret misappropriation rather than patent infringement, the two torts are sufficiently analogous that the Federal Circuit’s decision in Paice, as supplemented by cases from the Federal Circuit and from this district that have applied Paice [in the patent context] provide an appropriate starting point for this Court in deciding whether to grant an ongoing royalty and what the amount of that royalty should be.
Of course, this trade secret case is based upon Texas state law and not on Federal Patent law and the remedy must be guided by Texas law even if limited by the Federal Court’s equitable power. In the interesting case of Guarantee Trust Co. of New York v. York, 326 U.S. 99 (1945), the Supreme Court explained:
This does not mean that whatever equitable remedy is available in a State court must be available in a diversity suit in a federal court, or conversely, that a federal court may not afford an equitable remedy not available in a State court. . . . State law cannot define the remedies which a federal court must give simply because a federal court in diversity jurisdiction is available as an alternative tribunal to the State’s courts. Contrariwise, a federal court may afford an equitable remedy for a substantive right recognized by a State even though a State court cannot give it. Whatever contradiction or confusion may be produced by a medley of judicial phrases severed from their environment, the body of adjudications concerning equitable relief in diversity cases leaves no doubt that the federal courts enforced State-created substantive rights if the mode of proceeding and remedy were consonant with the traditional body of equitable remedies, practice and procedure, and in so doing they were enforcing rights created by the States and not arising under any inherent or statutory federal law.
To be clear, the ongoing damages award in Paice has been classified as equitable because it goes beyond what would have been available to a court of law.
In eBay, the Supreme Court spelled out the factors that must be considered as a pre-requisite before a Federal Court can award permanent injunctive relief. Although that case focused on injunctive relief, the Supreme Court requires federal courts to walk through several steps before any equitable relief is awarded. In the York case cited above, the court wrote that any award of equitable relief by a Federal Court “is of course subject to restrictions: the suit must be within the traditional scope of equity as historically evolved in the English Court of Chancery. . . ; explicit Congressional curtailment of equity powers must be respected. . .; the constitutional right to trial by jury cannot be evaded. . . ” In general, any ongoing royalty award should also also include a determination that the remedies available at law are inadequate to protect the interest of the right holder.
Where to Appeal?: It will be interesting to see how the Federal Circuit handles this case on appeal. (The complaint also requests change of inventorship under 35 U.S.C. 256).
The case should also serve as a warning against parties seeking injunctive relief in Federal Courts. Namely, Federal Courts are required to follow eBay even when enforcing State law. State courts are not so limited.