US Patent Office and the Government Shutdown

Many patent applicants have expressed some concern regarding the potential federal government shutdown after Friday, April 8th. The basic problem is that a federal agency is not supposed to spend any money without congressional authority to spend the money. This limit comes directly from the US Constitution, which says “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.” Article I, Section 9. That said, it is generally thought that essential federal employees can continue to work. For the most part, however, USPTO employees would not qualify as “essential.”

Although the USPTO is fully user-fee funded, the agency still sends its revenue the Treasury and then draws money from the Treasury when needed. Thus, the USPTO will clearly be affected by the shutdown.

I contacted USPTO leaders regarding their contingency plain. The Office has crafted a short-term solution based on the fact that a portion of their monies-in-hand are not linked to the current fiscal year budget. Therefore, the lack of appropriations for the rest of FY2011 does not limit the USPTO’s right and ability to spend that money. The Office’s projection is that this funding source can take the agency through six business days. If the shutdown occurs at COB Friday, then the office would have funds through Monday, April 18. After that, the Office intends to continue to accept new application electronically.

The Office does not intend to offer any grace period for applicant deadlines missed during the shutdown.

Update: Press Release

iLOR v. Google: Rejected Claim Construction Does Not Render Case “Objectively Baseless”

By Jason Rantanen

iLOR, LLC v. Google, Inc. (Fed. Cir. 2011)
Panel: Rader, Linn, Dyk (author)

This case involved a district court exceptional case determination based a finding that the suit was objectively baseless and brought in bad faith.  iLOR, the assignee of Patent No. 7,206,839, sued Google for infringement of the '839 patent by Google's Notebook product.  In denying iLOR's request for a preliminary injunction, the district court rejected iLOR's proposed construction of the only claim term in dispute, subsequently granting summary judgment of noninfringement.  The Federal Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of the preliminary injunction, agreeing that the language of the claim, the specification and the prosecution history supported the district court's construction.  See iLOR, LLC v. Google, Inc., 550 F.3d 1067 (Fed. Cir. 2008).  Following the Federal Circuit's disposition of that appeal, the district court granted Google's request to recover its attorneys' fees and costs and expenses, finding the case exceptional on the ground that it was "not close" on the merits (i.e.: ("objectively baseless") and iLOR had acted in subjective bad faith.  iLOR appealed.

In reversing the district court, the CAFC first likened the exceptional case standard for a suit brought by a patent plaintiff (absent misconduct during patent prosecution or litigation) to that of willful infringement.  "The objective baselessness standard for enhanced damages and attorneys’ fees against a non-prevailing plaintiff under Brooks Furniture is identical to the objective recklessness standard for enhanced damages and attorneys’ fees against an accused infringer for § 284 willful infringement actions under In re Seagate Technology, LLC, 497 F.3d 1360 (Fed. Cir. 2007) (en banc)."  Slip Op. at 8-9.  Thus, just as willfulness requires an assessment of both objective and "subjective" (i.e.: known or so obvious that it should have been known) prongs, so too does the exceptional case determination. And just as for willfulness, the objective assessment "is to be determined based on the record ultimately made in the infringement proceedings."  Id. at 10.

Comment: At some points, the Federal Circuit's opinion is confusingly imprecise in its usage of "objective baselessness."  Although in some instances it refers to the "objective baselessness" standard as being identical to the overall objective recklessness standard for willfulness (which includes, according to the court, both objective and subjective elements), at other times it treats it as being identical to only the "objective" prong of the analysis.  The only reading that makes sense is that when the court indicates that "objective baselessness" is identical to the willfulness "objective recklessness" standard, what it is really referring to is the overall standard for an exceptional case determination based on a meritless case theory, while when it compares it to the "objective" prong of the willfulness analysis, it really is referring to "objective baselessness."

Applying this framework, the CAFC concluded that iLOR's claim construction was not objectively baseless, and thus it was unnecessary to consider the issue of subjective bad faith.  The CAFC pointed to iLOR's arguments supporting its proposed construction, which – although the court disagreed with them – had some merit.  The CAFC also commented on the difficulty of claim construction, "in which the issues are often complex and the resolutions not always predictable."  Id. at 13.  And the court noted that the fact that it "held oral argument and issued a precedential written opinion in the first appeal suggests that we did not regard the case as frivolous."  Id. at 13-14.  In short, "simply being wrong about claim construction should not subject a party to sanctions where the construction is not objectively baseless."  Id. at 14.

Attorney Fees and Equal Treatment for Plaintiffs and Defendants

Media Queue v. Netflix (Fed. Cir. 2010)

This case involves a classic “improvement patent” scenario. Nick Gross was a longtime Netflix user when he came-up with the idea that the service should provide additional user notifications — such as when the movie queue runs dry. Just before filing suit, Gross and partners formed Media Queue as a holding company. Media Queue then sued Netflix, Blockbuster, and others for patent infringement. Nick is also a patent attorney and a nice guy. We met at a conference last spring.

After construing the claims, the district court dismissed the case based on its summary judgment finding of non-infringement.  The court, however, refused to award attorney-fees to the defendants because the case was not entirely frivolous or filed in bad faith.  Media Queue has appealed the summary judgment.  However, the more interesting aspect of the case is the counter-appeal by Netflix asking the Federal Circuit for an en banc hearing to on the issue of when a court may find an “exceptional case” and award attorney fees to the prevailing party. In particular, Netflix argues that the current law of attorney-fee awards is imbalanced in favor of the plaintiff-patentee.

35 USC 285 simply states that “The court in exceptional cases may award reasonable attorney fees to the prevailing party.”  Several decisions have held that a prevailing-patentee may obtain attorney fees based on a finding of willful infringement — i.e., that the accused infringer was aware of an objectively high likelihood that the patentee would prevail.  Willfulness can be found even when the defendant has a non-frivolous non-infringement of invalidity argument. On the flip-side, however, a prevailing-defendant (accused infringer) seeking attorney fees must show a seemingly higher standard of litigation misconduct or inequitable conduct.

The appeal asks the Federal Circuit to apply the Supreme Court precedent of Fogerty v. Fontasy, Inc. (1994) in holding that plaintiffs and defendants in patent cases are entitled to equal treatment in obtaining attorneys' fees.

The appeal is filed by Mark Lemley’s team at Durie Tangri. Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, Oracle, Toyota, and others “frequent defendants” have filed briefs supporting en banc hearing.

Documents:

Dickson Industries: Inequitable Conduct Holding Vacated

Dickson Industries, Inc. v. Patent Enforcement Team, L.L.Cpic-34.jpg . (Fed. Cir. 2009) (nonprecedential) 08-1372.pdf

Application of inequitable conduct jurisprudence continues to divide the Federal Circuit. Judge Rader has perhaps been the most outspoken critic of the current over-use of inequitable conduct allegations. In this case, Judge Rader was joined by Judges Mayer and Posner (by designation) in vacating a lower court finding of inequitable conduct.

The PET patent covers an apparatus for making drainage grooves at the edge of a roadway. Prior to litigation, PET had argued that the machines for making rumble strips at the side of the road also violate the patent rights. Subsequently, Dickson sued for declaratory relief.

The jury found the patent invalid and found the patent holder liable for $1.5 million for tortiously interfering with with Dickson’s business relationships. The court then also (1) found the patent unenforceable due to inequitable conduct during reexamination for failure to disclose material information and (2) awarded attorney fees to Dickson.

On appeal, the Federal Circuit affirmed the anticipation decision, but vacated the decision on inequitable conduct.

The case largely centered around one prior art reference – “Spangler” – which discloses an apparatus to make rumble strips. PET knew about Spangler during reexamination of its patent, but did not disclose that reference to the PTO.

Agreeing with the Jury, the Federal Circuit found substantial evidence indicating that Spangler discloses all the elements of PET’s patent – rendering the patent invalid.

Ordinarily, after finding the patent invalid, the court would not need to decide issues of inequitable conduct. Here, however, the appellate panel addressed inequitable conduct because that conduct served as the basis for the lower court’s award of exceptional case attorney fees.

Amending Pleadings to Add Inequitable Conduct Charges: Allegations of inequitable conduct are parallel to charges of fraud and ordinarily must be pled with specificity. Thus, in most cases the accused infringer does not have sufficient evidence to allege inequitable conduct in the initial filing of defenses. Here, the court initially denied Dickson’s motion to amend its complaint to add IC charges. However, at trial the court changed its mind and allowed the issue to be presented.

On appeal, the Federal Circuit found that PET was “prejudiced” by the inconsistent orders and was thus denied “the opportunity to adequately defend against the allegation of inequitable conduct at trial. For instance, PET was denied the opportunity to introduce evidence of good faith, which militates against a finding of deceptive intent.”

The district court’s contradicting positions undermine the legitimacy of its ruling on inequitable conduct. This court cannot say with confidence that the record regarding inequitable conduct is not incomplete. Thus, this court vacates the district’s decision on the issue of inequitable conduct and remands to provide an opportunity to fully develop the record regarding inequitable conduct. Further, this Court vacates the award of attorney fees premised on inequitable conduct as premature.

In a warning to the lower court, Judge Rader again raised the notion that inequitable conduct litigation “has become an absolute plague.”

Given the severe consequences of unenforceability when it is imposed on a patent, it is paramount that the district court exercise necessary caution to ensure that the patent owner met its burden of proof with respect to both the materiality and deceptive intent.

Vacated-in-part.

Notes:

  • Judges Mayer and Posner (sitting by designation) participated in the panel.
  • Update: I have fixed an important typographical error. Judge Rader indicated that inequitable conduct litigation is the problem (not inequitable conduct itself).

Federal Circuit Awards Sanctions for Frivolous Appeal

E-Pass v. 3Com, Palm, Visa, et al. (Fed. Cir. 2009)

This litigation began in 2000 when E-Pass sued for infringement of its electronic credit card patent. Patent No. 5,276,311. The district court granted summary judgment of non-infringement, which was affirmed on appeal. The district court then found the case exceptional under 35 U.S.C. § 285 and awarded attorneys’ fees to the defendants. E-Pass appealed that judgment. In a counter-motion, PalmSource also asked for attorneys fees for the appeal – arguing that the appeal was frivolous as well. The Federal Circuit affirmed the trial court without opinion, but wrote an extensive opinion finding a frivolous appeal.

Frivolous Appeal: An appeal is frivolous if the appellant fails “to present cogent or clear arguments for reversal.” In addition, the court may award sanctions based on misconduct or misrepresentations to the appellate court.

Here, the court found that E-Pass did not present any specific argument relating to the attorney fees for one of the defendants – PalmSource. Instead, the plaintiff-appellant focused on its case against the other defendants. E-Pass did not “challenge any finding of the district court relating to litigation misconduct in the case against PalmSource.” Furthermore, E-Pass did not change its strategy even after being notified of PalmSource’s frivolous appeal argument. Adding to E-Pass’s problems are “multiple misrepresentations” to the Federal Circuit – primarily in referring to the defendants collectively when each stood in different situations. Perhaps the straw-that-broke-the-camel’s-back was E-Pass’s use of the quote that “a trial court may only sanction the patentee if both the litigation is brought in subjective bad faith and the litigation is objectively baseless.” With the help of PalmSource and the CAFC clerks, the court easily found that a critical exception to the sanctions rule had been left off. Notably, the full quote reads: “Absent misconduct in the litigation or in securing the patent, a trial court may only sanction the patentee if both the litigation is brought in subjective bad faith and the litigation is objectively baseless.”

Sanctions and attorney fees granted against E-Past and its counsel, jointly and severally.

In dissent, Judge Bryson saw serious misconduct, but would not have imposed sanctions.

Accepting that in those regards E-Pass’s briefs on appeal fell short of the standards we expect of counsel in this court, I nonetheless conclude that the shortfall is not so egregious as to call for the imposition of sanctions.

Federal Circuit Affirms $4.6 million award for litigation misconduct

ICU Medical v. Alaris Medical System pic-14.jpg (Fed. Cir. 2009)

ICU’s patents covers technology for using syringes to add drugs to an IV. The district court granted summary judgment of invalidity and also awarded attorney fees and found a violation of Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Alaris was awarded $4.6 million in attorney fees and sanctions. On appeal, the Federal Circuit affirmed.

Section 285 of the Patent Act provides for the award of attorney fees to the winning party in “exceptional cases.” In Brooks Furniture, the Federal Circuit discussed a two-part test for whether attorneys fees may be awarded due to litigation conduct. The test requires that “both (1) the litigation is brought in subjective bad faith, and (2) the litigation is objectively baseless.” A district court fee award will be affirmed absent clear error.

The problem – ICU argued that the claim term “spike” could be a non-pointed structure such as a tube even though the specification “repeatedly and uniformly describes the spike as a pointed instrument.” The claim construction was not ICU’s only problem:

For example, the district court found that ICU made “multiple, repeated misrepresentations . . . to the Court regarding its own patents in an effort to conceal what are now characterized as errors in order to rescue the TRO/PI from denial.” These misrepresentations related to (1) ICU’s assertion of claims in the ’509 patent that were identical to claims in the ’592 patent (i.e., assertion of double-patented claims); (2) ICU’s assertion of more double-patented claims from the ’509 patent even after Alaris and the district court warned ICU of the double-patenting issue; (3) ICU’s misrepresentation of Federal Circuit authority; (4) ICU’s representation that figures 13 and 20–22 of the common specification “clearly” disclosed a spikeless embodiment, only to later acknowledge that these figures do not disclose such an embodiment and state that its representation was an “honest mistake.”

Although the Brooks Furniture rule discusses objectively baseless “litigation,” that rule is not construed to focus on the litigation as a whole. Rather, attorney fees may be assessed if any portion of the litigation is brought in bad faith and in an objectively baseless manner. Here, the Federal Circuit found that the lower court had “appropriately exercised its discretion in awarding attorney fees only for [a] portion of the litigation.”

Notes:

  • Federal Circuit Decision 08-1077.pdf
  • District Court award of Fees: 232495.pdf. Bottom line: “The Court finds that Alaris is due $4,587,622.44 in attorney fees and $164,721.19 in costs for the reasons set forth below. . . . This represents a reasonable lodestar calculation for Alaris’ work . . . , and it constitutes a reasonable pro rata amount of Alaris’ total expenditure of $11,000,000 in attorney fees and $2,000,000 in costs overall in this case.”
  • District Court decision to find a Section 285 exceptional case and Rule 11 sanctions. 232494.pdf. Money Quote: “[The submitted declarations] do not substantively justify or excuse ICU’s litigation tactics or show its good faith. These declarations were prepared by ICU’s litigation counsel for the purpose ofopposing the Rule 11 and Fees Motions, and comprise mostly self-serving assertions of good faith by interested witnesses, such as ICU’s CEO (Dr. George Lopez), trial counsel (Fulwider, Patton, Lee & Utecht; Paul Hastings; or Pooley & Oliver), patent counsel (Knobbe Martens) and its paid experts (Dr. Maureen Reitman and Bob Rogers). These materials lack the indicia of credibility provided by declarations or opinions from outside, independent counsel or experts, particularly outside patent, as opposed to litigation, counsel. Most of the materials appear to have been “memorialized” in retrospect, providing marginal support compared to, for example, an ex ante documented and vetted analysis that preceded the litigation or that, al minimum, preceded the TRO/PI request and the inclusion of the “spike” claims in the amended complaint.”
  • Although the district court decision appears to identify the Fulwider firm as “trial counsel,” that appears to have been a mistake made by the court. A Fulwider attorney has indicated that their firm “was never one of ICU’s trial counsel in that matter, and thus made no representations to the court on ICU’s behalf.” In fact, ICU appears to be somewhat of a toxic client. According to the court documents, Fulwider represented ICU in the 1990′s. At some point ICU dropped the firm as a client and sued for malpractice based on Fulwider’s representation of alleged ICU competitors. Fulwider did not admit wrongdoing, but a 2007 press release by ICU claims that ICU “will be paid $8 million in settlement of its claims against Fulwider.”

Federal Circuit Affirms $4.6 million award for litigation misconduct

ICU Medical v. Alaris Medical System pic-14.jpg (Fed. Cir. 2009)

ICU’s patents covers technology for using syringes to add drugs to an IV. The district court granted summary judgment of invalidity and also awarded attorney fees and found a violation of Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Alaris was awarded $4.6 million in attorney fees and sanctions. On appeal, the Federal Circuit affirmed.

Section 285 of the Patent Act provides for the award of attorney fees to the winning party in “exceptional cases.” In Brooks Furniture, the Federal Circuit discussed a two-part test for whether attorneys fees may be awarded due to litigation conduct. The test requires that “both (1) the litigation is brought in subjective bad faith, and (2) the litigation is objectively baseless.” A district court fee award will be affirmed absent clear error.

The problem – ICU argued that the claim term “spike” could be a non-pointed structure such as a tube even though the specification “repeatedly and uniformly describes the spike as a pointed instrument.” The claim construction was not ICU’s only problem:

For example, the district court found that ICU made “multiple, repeated misrepresentations . . . to the Court regarding its own patents in an effort to conceal what are now characterized as errors in order to rescue the TRO/PI from denial.” These misrepresentations related to (1) ICU’s assertion of claims in the ’509 patent that were identical to claims in the ’592 patent (i.e., assertion of double-patented claims); (2) ICU’s assertion of more double-patented claims from the ’509 patent even after Alaris and the district court warned ICU of the double-patenting issue; (3) ICU’s misrepresentation of Federal Circuit authority; (4) ICU’s representation that figures 13 and 20–22 of the common specification “clearly” disclosed a spikeless embodiment, only to later acknowledge that these figures do not disclose such an embodiment and state that its representation was an “honest mistake.”

Although the Brooks Furniture rule discusses objectively baseless “litigation,” that rule is not construed to focus on the litigation as a whole. Rather, attorney fees may be assessed if any portion of the litigation is brought in bad faith and in an objectively baseless manner. Here, the Federal Circuit found that the lower court had “appropriately exercised its discretion in awarding attorney fees only for [a] portion of the litigation.”

Notes:

  • Federal Circuit Decision 08-1077.pdf
  • District Court award of Fees: 232495.pdf. Bottom line: “The Court finds that Alaris is due $4,587,622.44 in attorney fees and $164,721.19 in costs for the reasons set forth below. . . . This represents a reasonable lodestar calculation for Alaris’ work . . . , and it constitutes a reasonable pro rata amount of Alaris’ total expenditure of $11,000,000 in attorney fees and $2,000,000 in costs overall in this case.”
  • District Court decision to find a Section 285 exceptional case and Rule 11 sanctions. 232494.pdf. Money Quote: “[The submitted declarations] do not substantively justify or excuse ICU’s litigation tactics or show its good faith. These declarations were prepared by ICU’s litigation counsel for the purpose ofopposing the Rule 11 and Fees Motions, and comprise mostly self-serving assertions of good faith by interested witnesses, such as ICU’s CEO (Dr. George Lopez), trial counsel (Fulwider, Patton, Lee & Utecht; Paul Hastings; or Pooley & Oliver), patent counsel (Knobbe Martens) and its paid experts (Dr. Maureen Reitman and Bob Rogers). These materials lack the indicia of credibility provided by declarations or opinions from outside, independent counsel or experts, particularly outside patent, as opposed to litigation, counsel. Most of the materials appear to have been “memorialized” in retrospect, providing marginal support compared to, for example, an ex ante documented and vetted analysis that preceded the litigation or that, al minimum, preceded the TRO/PI request and the inclusion of the “spike” claims in the amended complaint.”
  • Although the district court decision appears to identify the Fulwider firm as “trial counsel,” that appears to have been a mistake made by the court. A Fulwider attorney has indicated that their firm “was never one of ICU’s trial counsel in that matter, and thus made no representations to the court on ICU’s behalf.” In fact, ICU appears to be somewhat of a toxic client. According to the court documents, Fulwider represented ICU in the 1990′s. At some point ICU dropped the firm as a client and sued for malpractice based on Fulwider’s representation of alleged ICU competitors. Fulwider did not admit wrongdoing, but a 2007 press release by ICU claims that ICU “will be paid $8 million in settlement of its claims against Fulwider.”

Federal Circuit Affirms $4.6 million award for litigation misconduct

ICU Medical v. Alaris Medical System pic-14.jpg (Fed. Cir. 2009)

ICU’s patents covers technology for using syringes to add drugs to an IV. The district court granted summary judgment of invalidity and also awarded attorney fees and found a violation of Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Alaris was awarded $4.6 million in attorney fees and sanctions. On appeal, the Federal Circuit affirmed.

Section 285 of the Patent Act provides for the award of attorney fees to the winning party in “exceptional cases.” In Brooks Furniture, the Federal Circuit discussed a two-part test for whether attorneys fees may be awarded due to litigation conduct. The test requires that “both (1) the litigation is brought in subjective bad faith, and (2) the litigation is objectively baseless.” A district court fee award will be affirmed absent clear error.

The problem – ICU argued that the claim term “spike” could be a non-pointed structure such as a tube even though the specification “repeatedly and uniformly describes the spike as a pointed instrument.” The claim construction was not ICU’s only problem:

For example, the district court found that ICU made “multiple, repeated misrepresentations . . . to the Court regarding its own patents in an effort to conceal what are now characterized as errors in order to rescue the TRO/PI from denial.” These misrepresentations related to (1) ICU’s assertion of claims in the ’509 patent that were identical to claims in the ’592 patent (i.e., assertion of double-patented claims); (2) ICU’s assertion of more double-patented claims from the ’509 patent even after Alaris and the district court warned ICU of the double-patenting issue; (3) ICU’s misrepresentation of Federal Circuit authority; (4) ICU’s representation that figures 13 and 20–22 of the common specification “clearly” disclosed a spikeless embodiment, only to later acknowledge that these figures do not disclose such an embodiment and state that its representation was an “honest mistake.”

Although the Brooks Furniture rule discusses objectively baseless “litigation,” that rule is not construed to focus on the litigation as a whole. Rather, attorney fees may be assessed if any portion of the litigation is brought in bad faith and in an objectively baseless manner. Here, the Federal Circuit found that the lower court had “appropriately exercised its discretion in awarding attorney fees only for [a] portion of the litigation.”

Notes:

  • Federal Circuit Decision 08-1077.pdf
  • District Court award of Fees: 232495.pdf. Bottom line: “The Court finds that Alaris is due $4,587,622.44 in attorney fees and $164,721.19 in costs for the reasons set forth below. . . . This represents a reasonable lodestar calculation for Alaris’ work . . . , and it constitutes a reasonable pro rata amount of Alaris’ total expenditure of $11,000,000 in attorney fees and $2,000,000 in costs overall in this case.”
  • District Court decision to find a Section 285 exceptional case and Rule 11 sanctions. 232494.pdf. Money Quote: “[The submitted declarations] do not substantively justify or excuse ICU’s litigation tactics or show its good faith. These declarations were prepared by ICU’s litigation counsel for the purpose ofopposing the Rule 11 and Fees Motions, and comprise mostly self-serving assertions of good faith by interested witnesses, such as ICU’s CEO (Dr. George Lopez), trial counsel (Fulwider, Patton, Lee & Utecht; Paul Hastings; or Pooley & Oliver), patent counsel (Knobbe Martens) and its paid experts (Dr. Maureen Reitman and Bob Rogers). These materials lack the indicia of credibility provided by declarations or opinions from outside, independent counsel or experts, particularly outside patent, as opposed to litigation, counsel. Most of the materials appear to have been “memorialized” in retrospect, providing marginal support compared to, for example, an ex ante documented and vetted analysis that preceded the litigation or that, al minimum, preceded the TRO/PI request and the inclusion of the “spike” claims in the amended complaint.”
  • Although the district court decision appears to identify the Fulwider firm as “trial counsel,” that appears to have been a mistake made by the court. A Fulwider attorney has indicated that their firm “was never one of ICU’s trial counsel in that matter, and thus made no representations to the court on ICU’s behalf.” In fact, ICU appears to be somewhat of a toxic client. According to the court documents, Fulwider represented ICU in the 1990′s. At some point ICU dropped the firm as a client and sued for malpractice based on Fulwider’s representation of alleged ICU competitors. Fulwider did not admit wrongdoing, but a 2007 press release by ICU claims that ICU “will be paid $8 million in settlement of its claims against Fulwider.”

Reasonable Billing Rates

Matlink v. Home Depot & Lowes (S.D. Cal. 2008)

Matlink sued the big box retailers for infringement of its patent covering a supply re-ordering system. After some discovery “stonewalling,” the district court awarded attorney-fees to the defendants for their time wasted on a motion to compel. Here, the attorney fees were calculated based on the rates charged by the defendant’s three Southern California Winston & Strawn attorneys:

Partner with 15 years experience

$630 per hour

Associate with 6 years experience

$455 per hour

Associate with 1 year experience

$280 per hour

In awarding fees, the court found these rates “not … excessive in this context.”

A similar situation recently arose in Quantronix v. Data Trak (D. Minn 2008). There, the district court looked at the hourly billing rates for several Salt Lake City patent litigators from the Trask Britt firm:

Partner with 15 years experience

$350 per hour

Associate with 3 years experience

$195 per hour

Associate with 2 year experience

$175 per hour

The Quantronix court found these rates reasonable as well. “Considering the experience levels of the individuals on the Quantronix billing statements and the Court’s own experience with and knowledge of prevailing rates in this market, the Court finds that the hourly billing rates submitted by Quantronix are reasonable and commensurate with the rates of other attorneys in this area with similar knowledge and practice experience.”

When Richmond based attorneys from Troutman Sanders requested attorney fees earlier this year, they used the following rate chart:

Partner with 20 years experience

$350 per hour

Partner with 14 years experience

$350 per hour

Thomas & Betts Power Solutions v. Power Distrib., Inc., (E.D. Va. 2008).

The Florida IP firm of Allen Dyer requested similar rates in AC Direct, Inc. v. Kemp (M.D. Fla. 2008)

Founding partner with 40 years experience

$325 per hour

Attorney with 6 years experience

$190 per hour

The AC Direct court found those rates reasonable. “In the Court’s experience, the rates charged by the attorneys and paralegals assigned to this case are within the range of reasonable legal fees for the Orlando, Florida marketplace. Further, the fees are appropriate given the level of skill displayed in this case.”

Notes:

  • I saw the original report of Matlink in the Docket Navigator; The other cases were found in Westlaw.

CAFC Affirms Exceptional Case Attorney Fees Based on Multiplicity of Minor Acts of Misconduct

PatentLawPic365Nilssen v. Osram Sylvania (Fed. Cir. 2008)

In 2007, a unanimous CAFC panel affirmed a district court’s finding that Ole Nilssen’s light bulb patents were unenforceable due to inequitable conduct.  The improper prosecution conduct included failing to disclose a close relationship with a 132 declarant; misleading priority claims; and improper payment of a small entity fee.

Now on appeal is whether Nilssen owes attorney fees under 35 U.S.C. § 285.  As with most civil cases in the US, the general rule in patent cases is that each party pays their own attorney fees.  Section 285 of the patent act provides a limited exception — providing that a district court “in exceptional cases may award reasonable attorney fees to the prevailing party.”  Here, the district court found the case exceptional based on the aforementioned inequitable conduct as well as “litigation misconduct” and the filing of a “frivolous lawsuit.” 

Benign Inequitable Conduct: Nilssen argued that his alleged inequitable conduct had very little real impact — i.e., that it was benign.  The CAFC rejected that argument — finding that inequitable conduct is never benign. “In fact, it is a contradiction to call inequitable conduct benign.”

Building a Mountain from Pebbles: Nilssen makes a good argument that none his individual acts of misconduct appear bad enough to call the case ‘exceptional.’ 

These acts of misconduct include late production of documents, disavowal of a prior interrogatory response (and never filing a formal correction), attempting to exclude interrogatories that were never signed; informally withdrawing patents from suit, but waiting until only a few months before trial to formally withdraw the patents; and waiving attorney client privilege without providing formal notice to Osram.

Each of these actions can rather easily be explained as “either harmless oversight or permissibly rough litigation tactics.”  This is perhaps especially true when you consider that the K&E firm – well known for its relentless bull dog litigation style — represented Osram.

To the CAFC panel, however, the “multiplicity” of these individual elements were sufficient to warrant the exceptional case finding — even without an individual smoking gun.

In dissent, Judge Newman did not see an exceptional case:

The statutory authority to award attorney fees was intended to “prevent gross injustice,” not to shift the economic balance against the unsuccessful plaintiff.

Notes:

  • The first line of the case reads: “Nilssen is the owner and principal inventor of over 200 patents…”  What does the court mean by “principal inventor” and is there any legal significance associated with that designation?

 

 

District Court Must Provide Underlying Reasoning For “Exceptional Case” Determination

PatentLawPic363Innovation Technologies v. Splash! Medical Devices (Fed. Cir. 2008)

Innovation holds a patent for washing flesh wounds (U.S. Pat. No. 5,830,197) and sued Splash for infringement. In the midst of discovery (but before a Markman hearing) Innovation decided to end the litigation and executed a covenant not to sue Splash. Before dismissing the case, the district court awarded $140k in attorney fees to the accused infringer — finding the case “exceptional” because Innovation knew or should have known “that its infringement claims were baseless.”  Innovation left the district court with the impression that “the lawsuit was filed solely for the purpose of harassing a small competitor.”

In its decision, the district court provided only three sentences of legal conclusion without listing the factual basis for finding the case exceptional. [District Court Decision]

On appeal, the CAFC vacated in an opinion that reads like a reprimand. Quoting extensively from earlier opinions, the appellate panel demanded that lower court spell out the particular reasons why a case should be found exceptional:

‘“A district court must provide reasoning for its determination that a case is exceptional for us to provide meaningful review. Further, an exceptional case finding is not to be based on speculation or conjecture but upon clear and convincing evidence.” Stephens v. Tech Int’l, Inc., 393 F.3d 1269, 1276 (Fed. Cir. 2004) (citations omitted). . . .

This court could itself comb the record and answer those questions. That is not the normal appellate function, however, and we conclude that the proper practice here is for the district court initially to make the necessary findings on these issues. “[W]hen findings are required on the exceptional case issue such finding must initially be the province of the district court.” Consol. Aluminum Corp., v. Foseco Int’l Ltd., 910 F.2d 804, 814 (Fed. Cir. 1990). . .

Accordingly, the district court’s determination that this is an exceptional case and its award of attorneys fees are vacated, and the case is remanded to that court to make additional findings in accordance with this opinion. . . . If the court again concludes that this is an exceptional case and that it should award attorneys fees, it should also explain the reasons for the latter conclusion.

Vacated and Remanded.

Patently-O Bits and Bytes No. 40

  • Sitting by Designation: The CAFC has continued to offer district court judges from across the country the opportunity to sit on the appellate bench for a day. On June 3, 2008, Judge Ward from the Eastern District of Texas filled out a panel with Judges Newman and Gajarsa. They will be deciding three patent cases: Hyatt v. Dudas (waiver of arguments before the BPAI); Atlanta Pharma v. Teva (appeal from denial of preliminary injunction to stop teva from selling a generic version of the ulcer med Protonix); and D Beam v. Roller Derby.
  • New USPTO Fees: They are going up, but you can put in your two cents by July 3. [New Fees][Contact Walter.Schlueter@uspto.gov. Include RIN number RIN 0651–AC21 in the subject line.]
  • FTC Commissioner Rosch recently spoke about patents and antitrust. He believes that the FTC Act, the Clayton Act and the Sherman Act all create “viable enforcement tools” against companies that create “patent walls” — especially when they acquire those patents from third parties. The FTC is currently going after N-Data in a case where the patent covers an ethernet standard. [N-Data][Zura’s Comments] Three important cases on this issue:
    • US v. Singer Mfg (Antitrust violation to charge competitors with patent infringement after U.S. company obtained patent from Swiss company)
    • Kobe v. Dempsey Pump (obtaining and using “every important patent” in the field in order to exclude competition, together with other anticompetitive activity, constitutes an antitrust violation)
    • Case of Xerox Corp (settlement consent decree where FTC challenged Xerox’s purchase of additional plain paper copier patents).
  • Pre-Purchase Review: There is some room to debate here on the question of organic-patenting (patents on inventions via the company’s own R&D) versus acquisitional-patenting (buying up patents invented by others). At the firm level, acquisitional growth is typically reviewed much more harshly for potential antitrust violations than is organic growth. Is the FTC/DOJ headed toward a system of pre-purchase review of major patent acquisitions in the same way that the agencies conduct pre-merger reviews?

IPO Supports Attorney Fee-Shifting, Opposes PTO Authority

The Intellectual Property Owner’s Association (IPO) has taken a new stand on patent reform through its passage of three specific resolutions in reaction to the pending Senate bill S.3818 that had been supported by Senators Hatch and Leahy. Resolutions:

(1) supporting a requirement that a court award attorney fees to the winning party in most patent cases; [fees “shall” be awarded unless the losing position was “substantially justified”or if the award would be unjust because of special circumstances].

(2) opposing any change to give substantive rule-making authority to the USPTO; and

(3) opposing any right for an interlocutory appeal from claim construction decisions in patent litigation. 

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Court Retains Article III Jurisdiction To Determine Attorney Fees

HighwayHighway Equipment v. Feco (Fed. Cir. 2006).

The district court dismissed the case with prejudice after the plaintiff gave the defendant a covenant not to sue. Just before trial, the plaintiff gave up and granted a covenant not to sue. The district court dismissed the case, but retained jurisdiction to decide the issue of attorney fees (fees denied).

On appeal, the CAFC first decided the issue of Article III jurisdiction — holding that even after dismissing the case major, the lower court properly retained jurisdiction over the attorney fee issue. The appellate panel then agreed that attorney fees were not justified in this case.