By Dennis Crouch
Following the Supreme Court’s equitable relief decision in eBay, many patentees have found it difficult to obtain injunctive relief to stop ongoing infringement – even after final judgment that the patent is both valid and infringed.
In a recent decision, the District Court Judge Blake (D.Md.) seemingly flipped eBay on its head by enjoining TWi Pharma from making or selling a generic version of Par’s patented Megace ES formulary. The upside-down element of the decision is that the order granting the injunction issued only after the court found the patent claims invalid as obvious. Par Pharma v. TWi Pharma, 1-11-cv-02466 (MDD August 12, 2014, Order). To be clear, the order here is not for permanent relief, but only relates to injunction pending appeal.
The doctrine involving the grant of equitable relief pending appeal is a bit squirrelly – especially at the district court level because the general setup involves the court deciding that its decisions are likely wrong. Recognizing that, the law does not require the moving party to show that its case is a likely winner but only a substantial likelihood that the requested equitable relief will be entered as a result of the appeal. Applying this standard, the district court writes:
Par claims that it will succeed on the merits because this court erred in its application of the law with respect to motivations to combine the prior art and inherency. Although the court stands by its judgment, it recognizes that the case presents a close call. Further, the Federal Circuit will conduct a de novo review of whether the ‘576 patent is obvious, including whether this court properly interpreted the law regarding motivation and inherency. . . . The court is not persuaded Par has demonstrated a “strong” likelihood of success on appeal—especially given that most of its dispute with this court’s earlier decision is only rehashing the legal arguments it has already made. Par has, however, made a showing of a substantial case.
The district court joined this “substantial case” on appeal with strong evidence of irreparable harm absent relief in its decision to grant the injunction pendente lite.
Regarding the ‘public interest’ element of equitable relief, the court found that element neutral.
The court recognizes that the public is served by the availability of low-cost generic medications, especially where an invalid patent has previously barred their entry into the market. On the other hand, the public also has an interest in the protection of valid patents because it promotes innovation. This factor, therefore, is neutral.
An interesting and problematic element of the court’s decision here is that the doctrinal approach makes it easier for a patentee to obtain temporary relief following an adverse final judgment (of invalidity) than prior to such a judgment. The doctrinal difference highlighted by the court between preliminary injunctive relief pending final judgment and post-decision relief pending appeal is simply that the proof of likelihood-of-success is reduced for relief pending appeal. This is obviously problematic because in the second case, the court will have already reached a final judgment that the patentee loses.
In making its decision, the district court applied Federal Circuit precedent regarding relief pending appeal. However, those cases relate generally to the asymmetrical situation of staying-injunctive relief pending appeal rather than, as here, granting injunctive relief pending appeal.
There is a better approach that still recognizes the potential need for injunctive relief pending appeal and that is simply requiring a greater showing of need for relief (irreparable harm; balance of hardships; public interest) when the likelihood-of-success element is reduced.