Bosch v. Pylon: jettisoning the presumption of irreparable harm in injunction relief

By Jason Rantanen

Robert Bosch LLC v. Pylon Mfg. Corp. (Fed. Cir. 2011) Download 11-1096
Panel: Bryson (dissenting-in-part), O'Malley (author), Reyna

This is a very important Federal Circuit decision that firmly eliminates the presumption of irreparable harm in the context of injunctive relief.  While laying this issue to rest, however, the court offers an alternative idea: that even post-eBay, courts should (and implicitly must) consider the fundamental nature of patents as property rights when conducting an injunction analysis.

Wiper bladeThis case involves wiper blade technology.  Bosch, the patent holder, sued Pylon for infringement of a set of wiper blade patents.  At the trial court level, Bosch prevailed on a jury finding of validity and infringement before requesting entry of a permanent injunction.  The district court denied the injunction and Bosch sought interlocutory appeal of the denial while the damages determination was pending.

The presumption of irreparable harm is dead. Much attorney and commentator ink has been spilled over whether the presumption of irreparable harm following judgment of infringement and validity survived eBay Inc. v. MercExchange, L.L.C.  The Federal Circuit's opinion in Bosch v. Pylon should put an end to any further debate.  "We take this opportunity to put the question to rest and confirm that eBay jettisoned the presumption of irreparable harm as it applies to determining the appropriateness of injunctive relief."  Slip Op. at 10.  Although not expressly stated by the court, the unequivocal implication is that this is as true for preliminary injunctions as it is for permanent injunctions.

Long live the requirement that courts acknowledge the fundamental nature of patents as property rights! While affirming the death of the presumption of irreparable harm, Bosch simultaneously suggests an alternative approach that perhaps may turn out not all that different: the importance of recognizing that patents are property rights when performing the injunction analysis.

Although eBay abolishes our general rule that an injunction normally will issue when a patent is found to have been valid and infringed, it does not swing the pendulum in the opposite direction. In other words, even though a successful patent infringement plaintiff can no longer rely on presumptions or other short-cuts to support a request for a permanent injunction, it does not follow that courts should entirely ignore the fundamental nature of patents as property rights granting the owner the right to exclude.

Slip Op. at 11. In other words, "While the patentee’s right to exclude alone cannot justify an injunction, it should not be ignored either."  Id. 

In the end, however, Bosch makes little use of this new approach, instead focusing on other types of errors committed by the district court.   Thus, it remains to be seen whether a failure to consider the "fundamental nature" of patent rights will be grounds for reversal. 

Reversal of district court denial of permanent injunction: In reversing the denial of an injunction, the court applies an approach reminiscent of the Supreme Court's own jurisprudence in recent years. 

Over the past quarter-century, this court has encountered many cases involving a practicing patentee seeking to permanently enjoin a competitor upon an adjudication of infringement. In deciding these cases, we have developed certain legal standards that inform the four-factor inquiry and, in particular, the question of irreparable harm. While none of these standards alone may justify a general rule or an effectively irrebuttable presumption that an injunction should issue, a proper application of the standards to the facts of this case compels the conclusion that Bosch is entitled to the injunction it seeks. It is in ignoring these standards, and supplanting them with its own, that the district court abused its discretion.

Slip Op. at 12.  Under this precedent, the court identifies two related legal errors and an error of judgment; taking the all the factors together, the majority concludes, compels the entry of a permanent injunction. The legal errors consisted of the district court's conclusions that the presence of additional competitors in the market, without more, cuts against a finding of irreparable harm, as did the non-core nature of Bosch's wiper blade business in relation to its business as a whole.  "Injuries that affect a “non-core” aspect of a patentee’s business are equally capable of being irreparable as ones that affect more significant operations."  Slip Op. at 16.  Ultimately, the trial court's error "arises from its conclusion that, if a fact supports the granting of an injunction, its absence likely compels the denial of one.  That is not the law, however."  Slip Op. at 17. 

Dissenting in part, Judge Bryson disagreed with the majority's decision to remand with instructions to enter an injunction.  While Judge Bryson would not have affirmed the denial of an injunction, nor would he have expressly reversed, instead preferring to remand the matter back to the district court for further findings of fact and a reweighing of the equities.  

Kimberly-Clark v. First Quality Baby Products: No CAFC en banc resolution of standard for preliminary injunctions

By Jason Rantanen

Kimberly-Clark Worldwide, Inc. v. First Quality Baby Products, LLC (precedential order denying rehearing en banc) Download 10-1382 order
Newman, O'Malley and Reyna dissenting

During the last few years a significant intra-circuit split has developed at the Federal Circuit over the appropriate standard to apply to likelihood of success determinations made in the context of requests for a preliminary injunction.  Last week the Federal Circuit declined to take the issue en banc in a move that prolongs the uncertainty but perhaps paves the way for Supreme Court review.

As in other areas of the law, the determination of whether to grant a preliminary injunction requires the applicant to establish four factors: a likelihood of success on the merits, irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief, that the balance of equities tips in the applicant's favor, and that an injunction is in the public interest.  The judges of the Federal Circuit disagree, however, about the standard for demonstrating a likelihood of success on the merits, as well as whether such a showing is a necessary prerequisite for entry of a preliminary injunction.

On this issue, several of the judges (including Judges Dyk and Prost, who participated on the panel in this case) apply the standard that an applicant fails to establish a liklihood of success on the merits if the accused party raises a defense that "does not lack substantial merit," and that such a failure precludes entry of a preliminary injunction.  This was the standard applied in the Kimberly-Clark opinion itself, in which the panel vacated a district court's entry of a preliminary injunction with respect to three patents (although it did affirm an injunction based on a fourth patent, concluding that the accused infringer "failed to raise a substantial issue of patentability"). Download 10-1382

Other judges, most vocally Judge Newman, take the view that a defense that does not "lack substantial merit" does not equate with a failure to establish a likelihood of success on the merits, and in any event should not automatically preclude entry of a preliminary injunction.  In her dissent in the denial of rehearing en banc in Kimberly-Clark, for example, Judge Newman – joined by Judges O'Malley and Reyna – criticizes the alternate rule as an absurdity.  "This standard essentially negates the possibility of grant of a preliminary injunction to preserve the status quo during patent litigation, for in today’s complex patent law it is hard to imagine a case in which a defense that is “not substantially meritless” cannot be devised at the preliminary stage."  Dissent at 5-6.  In support of her view, Judge Newman points to the disconnect between "lacks substantial merit" and the standard applied by everyone besides the Federal Circuit.  "The panel's approach is in conflict with not only the Supreme Court, but with every other circuit."  Id. at 6. Nor should a defense that lacks substantial merit automatically preclude entry of a preliminary injunction if the balancing of the four factors necessitates otherwise. See id. at 10-12. Judge O'Malley, writing separately, expressed her strong agreement with the points raised by Judge Newman, as well as concerns about the difficulties faced by district courts in resolving the court's precedent in this area.

Regardless who is correct on the appropriate standard for a preliminary injunction, it is apparent that a sharp split exists within the Federal Circuit that it will be unable to resolve on its own in the near future.  The denial of the en banc request suggests two possible outcomes: (1) that success of a preliminary injunction appeal to the Federal Circuit will continue to be heavily panel-dependant for foreseeable future, or (2) that the Supreme Court will intervene in this case or another to resolve the split and restore some predictability to the area of preliminary injunctions.

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.

Liability for Future Indirect Infringement

By Jason Rantanen

In an earlier post, I summarized the Federal Circuit's affirmance of a preliminary injunction prohibiting Apotex from marketing its generic version of AstraZeneca's budesonide in AstraZeneca LP v. Apotex, Inc

The majority's discussion of inducement of infringement in this case is particularly interesting because it deals with inducement of infringement in the context of future acts, as opposed to damages for past inducement – and when dealing with future infringement, it's unclear whether an intent element should apply to indirect infringement at all.

Apotex Had Specific Intent to Cause Infringement
In its opinion affirming the district court's preliminary finding of inducement, the Federal Circuit rejected Apotex's argument that it lacked specific intent to cause infringement, concluding that Apotex knew about potential infringement problems posed by its label but nevertheless decided to proceed nonetheless.  Similarly unpersuasive to the court was Apotex's argument that it lacked specific intent because the FDA required it to include the pivotal titration language.  The majority pointed out that Apotex had a variety of options besides proceeding in the face of a risk of an infringement suit, including waiting until the patents expire, challenging infringement and validity, and formally appealing the FDA's denial of Apotex's proposed labeling amendment.  Given these circumstances, the court concluded that Apotex had the necessary specific intent to cause inducement.

Is Intent to Cause Infringement Even Relevant When Dealing With the Future?
The court's ruling, however, could be supported in another way: by concluding that inducement with respect to future acts of infringement does not require the patentee to establish that the accused party posessed "specific intent" to infringe the patent.   This is because when dealing with the future, there will necessarily be a court finding that the relevant third party conduct infringes. Inherent in the court's determination is the conclusion that once-daily use of Apotex's product – the use that the court concluded would result from Apotex's label – infringes AstraZeneca's patents.   In other words, once the court made this determination, AstraZeneca conclusively knew1 that patients taking its medication in a manner that it intended (i.e.: once daily) would infringe the method claims, and therefore continuing to engage in that conduct would satisfy the requrements of specific intent.  That Apotex may not want to infringe the patents is beside the point: its knowledge that the third party's conduct infringes, coupled with an intent to cause that conduct, is all that is required for this element of inducement, and for future acts those requirements would automatically be met. 

I'm not the first to identify this issue – Professor Timothy Holbrook made it few years back as well.  See Timothy Holbrook, The Intent Element of Induced Infringement, 22 SANTA CLARA COMPUTER & HIGH TECH. L.J. 399, 406 (2006).  Nevertheless, this is an instance where the argument that inducement of future infringement does not require the patent holder to prove specific intent to infringe could have been raised, and the parties apparently did not.

1 Note that this case involved a preliminary injunction, and thus the court's findings were necessarily non-final.  Thus one could argue that Apotex did not "know" that the future conduct would infringe despite the district court's preliminary determination of infringement because it could be subject to later change.   However, as in many pharmaceutical patent cases, the lower court's determination was made following substantial briefing and argument (along with a five-day hearing), and its reasoning was affirmed on appeal.  Furthermore, even in the preliminary injunction context, the focus should not be on the question of what Apotex thought in the past about infringement, but rather whether it would be substantially certain that the third party conduct would infringe in the future – an analysis that collapses into the district court's determination on the question of infringement.

AstraZeneca v Apotex: Affirmance of a Preliminary Injunction

By Jason Rantanen

AstraZeneca LP v. Apotex, Inc. (Fed. Cir. 2010)
Panel: Rader, Bryson (dissenting in part), Linn (majority author),

Contrary to popular opinion, it's still possible to obtain a preliminary injunction in a patent case – it's just very difficult.  Astrazeneca v. Apotex provides an example of an affirmed preliminary injunction, and is significant for that reason alone.  It also raises some interesting inducement issues relating to intent that I'll discuss in a separate post.

Background
This case revolved around AstraZeneca's budesonide inhalation suspension drug product, which consists of a vial containing a single dose of budesonide suspended in a sterile liquid.  The drug is administered by squeezing the entire contents of the vial into a jet neubulizer, then inhaling the resulting mist through a mask attached to the nebulizer.  Because budesonide is an inhaled corticosteroid, the FDA requires that the label include a warning instructing patients to "titrate down" to the lowest effective dose of the medication to avoid any adverse effects from excessive use of the medication. 

The two patents at issue, Nos. 6,598,603 and 6,899,099, both contain method claims covering the once-daily use of the nebulized dose of a budesonide composition and product claims covering AstraZeneca's drug product kit.

Apotex sought approval to market a generic version of AstraZeneca's drug product.  As an ANDA applicant, it was well aware of AstraZeneca's patents, and sought to avoid the once-daily method claims by removing any mention of once-daily dosing from its labels.  While it succeeded in part, the FDA nevertheless required Apotex to keep the titration warning language in the generic product's label.

During the preliminary injunction proceedings, Apotex raised two principal arguments in response to the method claims.  First, it contended that they were anticipated; second, it contended that its distribution of the generic version of the drug would not induce infringement of AstraZeneca's method claims.  The district court rejected Apotex's arguments, and granted a preliminary injunction enjoining Apotex from marketing its product.

Note: The district court agreed with Apotex that the kit claims were invalid.  On appeal, the panel affirmed that determination. 

Anticipation
Apotex's first anticipation argument, involving a prior art patent, turned on a question of claim construction: whether the term "budesonide composition" encompassed budesonide encapsulated in liposomes (the '603 patent teaches dispersing budesonide in a solvent, either as a solution or a suspension that may include liposomes as an excipient).  The majority agreed with AstraZeneca's position, focusing on the discussion contained within the specification and buttressing its conclusions with extrinsic evidence (in this case, expert testimony).  Judge Bryson, dissenting on this point, reached the opposite conclusion: the claim term is not limited to budesonide directly dispresed in solvent, and thus the method claims are anticipated.

Apotex's also argued that a prior art British advertisement for AstraZeneca's product describing it as a twice-daily product anticipated the patents.  The majority again agreed with AstraZeneca that this reference did not anticipate the once-daily method claims, both because it did not disclose once daily dosing and because it was not enabled with respect to that type of dosing.  (Obviousness was apparently not in dispute, as at the time of the earlier reference no one recognized that the product could be administered once per day and still be effective).  Judge Bryson again disagreed, reading the prior art advertisement to suggest the administration of the drug once a day.

Inducement of Infringement
In challenging the district court's finding of inducement of infringement, Apotex focused on the subject of intent, arguing that its instructions did not demonstrate intent to cause the users of its product to engage in once-daily dosing and that it lacked specific intent to cause infringement of Apotex's patent.  The Federal Circuit rejected these arguments, affirming the district court's conclusion that the downward-titration instructions would necessarily result in some users engaging in once-daily dosing and noting that Apotex was well aware of the infringement problems raised by once-daily dosing, yet chose to proceed nonetheless.

Preliminary Injunction "Substantial Question of Invalidity" Standard
Although not playing a major role in the ultimate outcome of this appeal, the court's articulation of the "likelihood of success" standard, along with the subsidiary "substantial question of invalidity" element, is noteworthy given the divergent views on this subject, such as those expressed by Judges Newman and Gajarsa in Abbott Laboratories v. Sandoz, 544 F.3d 1341 (Fed. Cir. 2008).  AstraZeneca v. Apotex follows the approach of requiring a seemingly high threshold for patentees/low threshold for defendants on this issue:

For a patentee to establish that it is likely to succeed on the merits, it “must demonstrate that it will likely prove infringement of one or more claims of the patents-in-suit, and that at least one of those same allegedly infringed claims will also likely withstand the validity challenges presented by the accused infringer.” Ama-zon.com, 239 F.3d at 1351. When reviewing the grant of a preliminary injunction, this court “views the matter in light of the burdens and presumptions that will inhere at trial.” Titan Tire Corp., 566 F.3d at 1376 (citation omitted). A preliminary injunction should not issue if an alleged infringer raises a substantial question regarding either infringement or validity, i.e., the alleged infringer asserts an infringement or invalidity defense that the patentee has not shown lacks substantial merit. Genentech, Inc. v. Novo Nordisk A/S, 108 F.3d 1361, 1364 (Fed. Cir. 1997).

Stays Pending Appeal

August Technology Corp. v. Camtek (Fed. Cir. 2010) (non-precedential order)

A jury ruled that Camtek's semiconductor wafer inspection system infringed August's patent rights. The district court then issued a permanent injunction ordering the adjudged infringer to refrain from making, using, selling or offering-for-sell the infringing device. The court also ordered that Camtek not communicate with third parties located in the US for the purposes of offering to sell the device.

Along with its appeal on the merits, Camtek filed an emergency motion to stay the injunctive relief until the appeal is resolved. 

Under Federal Circuit law, the court will stay injunctive relief if either (1) the moving party shows a substantial likelihood that the injunction will be lifted as part of the merits decision; or (2) the moving party presents a strong case on the merits and the relative harms associated with the stay favor the moving party.  

Writing for the panel, Judge Lourie denied the stay — writing only that Camtek had not “met its burden.” 

Patents that Exhibit “Potential Vagueness and Suspect Validity”

In eBay v. MercExchange (2006), the Supreme Court ruled that an adjudged infringer should only suffer permanent injunctive relief once the traditional four-factor test of equity had been satisfied. This general priciple was recently supported by the non-patent Supreme Court case of Monsanto v. Geertson (2010). In Monsanto, the court wrote “An injunction is a drastic and extraordinary remedy, which should not be granted as a matter of a course.” The court’s apparent patent-law-centrist, Justice Kennedy, wrote a concurring opinion suggesting that times-have-changed and that courts may have good reason to frequently deny injunctive relief. With some flair, Justice Kennedy suggested that the “potential vagueness and suspect validity of some … patents may affect the calculus under the four-factor test.”

In many respects, Justice Kennedy’s statement from eBay seems odd. The issue of permanent injunctive relief only arises after trial — after the patents are deemed valid and infringed. The trial is intended to remove any question regarding potential invalidity of the patent rights. However, in a recent amicus brief to the Federal Circuit, Verizon attempts to provide some explanation and some teeth to Kennedy’s proposal. (Justice Kennedy’s statement has been quoted and discussed in over 80 law review articles over the past four years.)

The Verizon brief was filed in the pending en banc case of TiVo v. EchoStar. That case focuses on whether the infringement of new products introduced by an adjudged infringer should be analyzed through contempt proceedings or through a new trial.

Verizon’s brief does not focus on the questions at issue in TiVo, but rather addresses the broader question of whether injunctive relief should be issued in-the-first-place. Expanding on Justice Kennedy’s statements, Verizon argues that — even after a patent is determined valid at trial — the court must consider the possibility that the patent is invalid as part of the injunction analysis:

The need to ensure that equity “mould[s] each decree to the necessities of the particular case,” Hecht, 321 U.S. at 329, requires that a district court take into account the possibility that a patent – issued and adjudged to be valid in the context of an infringement trial – is, in fact, invalid.

To explain its position, Verizon points to a specific (and common) situation — where the infringed patent is pending reexamination at the USPTO. The brief states boldly that “the pendency of a PTO reexamination proceeding weighs strongly against imposition or continuation of an injunction.”

Notes:

  • Verizon filed its brief early, the first round of briefs are not due until July 26, 2010.
  • Edited to correct an error (I had said that Chief Justice Roberts wrote the eBay majority).

 

 

The Presumption of Irreparable Harm?


PatentLawPic858By Dennis Crouch

In a non-precedential opinion, the Federal Circuit  recently decided the important and open question of whether the Supreme Court’s decision 2006 in eBay v. MercExchange eliminated the presumption of irreparable harm that has been traditionally associated with the ongoing infringement of a patent that has been valid and enforceable. Automated Merchandising Systems (AMS) v. Crane Co. (Fed. Cir. 2009). The AMS opinion (authored by Chief Judge Michel and signed by Judges Clevenger and Dyk) holds that there is no presumption of irreparable harm “based just on proof of infringement.”


[T]he district court relied on . . . the old presumption that harm from patent infringement was irreparable, [and consequently that] the burden was on the defendant to demonstrate that the potential harm from not granting a preliminary injunction was finite, calculable, and compensable. This is no longer the law, as these cases all pre-dated the Supreme Court’s decision in eBay Inc. v. MercExchange, L.L.C., 547 U.S. 388, 392-94 (2006), in which the presumption of irreparable harm, based just on proof of infringement, was discarded. The burden is now on the patentee to demonstrate that its potential losses cannot be compensated by monetary damages.

Interestingly, neither party raised the presumption issue in their briefs except for a footnote by the defendant Crane arguing that the question of “whether such a presumption still exists or applies here is not at issue in this appeal.”

In two prior cases, the Federal Circuit refused to consider this same question — instead deciding the cases on other grounds. In Broadcom Corp. v. Qualcomm, Inc., 543 F.3d 683 (Fed. Cir. 2008), the court indicated that “[i]t remains an open question whether there remains a rebuttable presumption of irreparable harm following eBay.” Likewise, in Amado v. Microsoft Corp., 517 F.3d 1353 (Fed. Cir. 2008), the court refused to consider the question. Incidentally, the court in AMS could have also avoided the issue because the lack of irreparable harm was one of two alternate justifications for its judgment. (The court also held that the patentee had not shown a sufficient likelihood of success on the merits.). Both the Broadcom and Amado opinions were written by Judge Linn. (The Broadcom panel included Judges Linn, Friedman, and Prost while the Amado panel included Judges Bryson, Clevenger, and Linn).  District court cases have been decided both ways, although the predominant approach is to deny the presumption and instead force the patentee to provide evidence of irreparable harm.

The AMS decision could be isolated as a preliminary injunction decision using the policy grounds that preliminary relief should require a higher standard of proof.  However, the court’s reliance on eBay (a permanent injunction case) suggests such isolation is incorrect. Another potential distinguishing feature is the AMS’s statement that “the presumption of irreparable harm, based just on proof of infringement, was discarded.”  Permanent injunctive relief is typically based on ongoing infringement (not just infringement) and typically include a judgment that the patent is valid (not invalid) and enforceable (not unenforceable).  Of course, those features were also present in the eBay decision that serves as the Federal Circuit’s source of law. 

Of course, the AMS case does not serve as precedent and future panels (and lower courts) are still free to fill-in-the-blank left by eBay.

t minus 50: Microsoft Requests Emergency Stay of Injunctive Relief

i4i Ltd. v. Microsoft Corp. (Fed. Cir. 2009)

On August 11, 2009, Judge Davis (E.D.Tex.) issued his final order in the i4i v. Microsoft patent litigation. That final order gives Microsoft 60 days to stop selling, using, or supporting infringing versions of MS Word. By my calendar, the injunction becomes effective October 10, 2009. I4i’s patent covers xml capabilities of the MS Word that were implemented in Office ’03 and ’07. At this point, it is unclear how difficult it would be for Microsoft to eliminate the adjudged infringing capability from its products.

Microsoft has already filed a motion with the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit demanding an emergency stay pending appeal. The Federal Circuit clerk immediately denied Microsoft’s motion for an “administrative stay.” Instead, a merits panel will consider the emergency motion at oral arguments calendared for a special session September 23, 2009. Microsoft’s brief-on-point is due August 25; i4i’s opposition is due September 8; and any reply is due September 14. If the Federal Circuit makes a decision quickly, Microsoft may have time to appeal directly to the Supreme Court for a midnight stay of execution.

The jurisprudence on stays pending appeal is somewhat lacking – largely because these cases are – by definition – decided in a rush and courts often do not have time to fully explain their decisions. Based on the lower court decision, Microsoft’s best arguments for a stay will be based on a combination of (1) its argument on claim construction; (2) the irreparable harm to Microsoft and its customers that would flow from the injunction; and (3) the relatively small amount of irreparable harm that i4i will feel during the few months while the appeal is pending.

Stay of Injunctive Relief Pending Appeal: Unless otherwise ordered by the court, a permanent injunction is not stayed during an appeal. In Hilton v. Braunskill, 481 U.S. 770 (1987), the Supreme Court outlined a four factor test used when determining whether to stay enforcement. The factors are essentially the converse of those used in determining whether to grant a preliminary injunction. These factors include: “(1) whether the stay applicant has made a strong showing that he is likely to succeed on the merits [of the appeal]; (2) whether the applicant will be irreparably injured absent a stay; (3) whether issuance of the stay will substantially injure the other parties interested in the proceeding; and (4) where the public interest lies.”

Patent Reform on this Issue: In 2006, patent reform legislation introduced in Congress would have added an automatic stay of permanent injunctions after a showing that “the stay would not result in irreparable harm to the owner of the patent and that the balance of hardships from the stay does not favor the owner of the patent.” Patents Depend on Quality Act of 2006, H.R. 5096, 109th Cong. §8 (2006) (proposing to amend 35 U.S.C. 283).

Notes:

  • Don Dunner (Finnegan) is representing i4i on appeal; Matthew Powers (Weil) appears to continue to lead the team for Microsoft.
  • The ABA Journal has an interesting discussion of the trial that focuses primarily on Microsoft’s attempts to paint i4i as a troll seeking a ‘bailout.’ [Link] [Seattle PI]
  • Prior Patently-O post on District Court Order.

When The Infringing Device only Temporarily Meets the Claim Limitations

PatentLawPic742Gemtron v. Saint-Gobain (Fed. Cir. 2009)

The Michigan-based district court found that Saint-Gobain’s refrigerator shelves infringe Gemtron’s patent No. 6,679,573 and awarded a permanent injunction against further infringement. The shelves were unique – primarily because the glass panel shelf securly snaps into its plastic frame rather than being held by adhesives. The claims required the plastic fram to be “relatively resiliant” so that the glass could snap into place.

The claim construction issue was interesting because it focused on timing. Saint-Gobain’s plastic frame was resiliant while still warm immediately after forming. However, it quickly hardened and became brittle afterward. The accused infringer argued that the limitation “‘relatively resilient’ should not mean ‘temporarily resilient immediately after cooking in an oven and before any opportunity to cool.’”

On appeal, the Federal Circuit affirmed – finding that the purpose of the resiliance (to install the glass panel) “suggests that the claimed resilience of the frame need only be exhibited during assembly.”

There is no discussion in the specification of any purpose for or value of the “relatively resilient” structural characteristic …, other than to facilitate assembly of the shelf. This indicates that the end edge portions of the frame have the claimed structural characteristic—“relatively resilient”—if they are able to deflect at the time the shelf is assembled, to “snap-secure” the glass panel within the frame.

Affirmed.

  • Note: The permanent injunction was affirmed without comment.

Preliminary Injunctions and Obviousness in Design Patent Law

Titan Tire Corp. v. Case New Holland, Inc.pic-44.jpg 2008-1078 (Fed. Cir. 2009)

Titan (the patentee) and Goodyear (the exclusive licensee) combined to sue Case for infringement of its tractor tire design patent. (Des. Pat. No. D. 360,862). The district court rejected Goodyear’s motion for preliminary injunctive relief – finding that the evidence indicated that the patent claim was probably obvious. On appeal, the Federal Circuit affirmed.

Standard for Preliminary Relief: In order to obtain the “extraordinary” relief of a preliminary injunction to stop infringement before a final judgment, the a patentee must prove that “(1) it is likely to succeed on the merits, (2) it is likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of a preliminary relief, (3) the balance of equities tips in its favor, and (4) an injunction is in the public interest.” The likelihood of success requires proof that the patentee “will likely prove infringement, and that it will likely withstand [validity] challenges, if any.” When a defendant challenges a patent’s validity, the district court must weigh the evidence (both for and against) to determine whether the challenge “raises a substantial question” of validity.

“Thus, when analyzing the likelihood of success factor, the trial court, after considering all the evidence available at this early stage of the litigation, must determine whether it is more likely than not that the challenger will be able to prove at trial, by clear and convincing evidence, that the patent is invalid. We reiterate that the “clear and convincing” standard regarding the challenger’s evidence applies only at trial on the merits, not at the preliminary injunction stage. The fact that, at trial on the merits, the proof of invalidity will require clear and convincing evidence is a consideration for the judge to take into account in assessing the challenger’s case at the preliminary injunction stage; it is not an evidentiary burden to be met preliminarily by the challenger.”

The trial court’s decision on preliminary injunctive relief is reviewed for abuse of discretion.

Obviousness of Design Patents: Design patent claims are subject to the nonobviousness requirement of Section 103(a) — asking whether “the claimed design would have been obvious to a designer of ordinary skill who designs articles of the type involved.” However, it is unclear how KSR applies to design patent cases. Unfortunately, this decision provides no answers except that “it is not obvious that the Supreme Court necessarily intended to exclude design patents from the reach of KSR.”

Ordinarily, design patent obviousness analysis begins with a primary reference with design characteristics that “are basically the same as the claimed design.” Secondary references are then combined so long as the secondary references are “so related [to the primary reference] that the appearance of certain ornamental features in one would suggest the application of those features to the other.” Here, the lower court did not use the language of “primary and secondary references”, but the Federal Circuit found that the lower court’s obvious analysis was sufficient to for its denial of preliminary relief.

“[W]e cannot say the trial court abused its discretion in concluding that Titan was unlikely to withstand Case’s challenge to the validity of the ’862 patent on obviousness grounds.

Notes:

  • Read the case: 08-1078.pdf
  • The court explicitly avoided indicating whether obviousness analysis for design patents should be modified to conform to either KSR or Egyptian Goddess.

Injunctive Relief: District Court Abused Discretion by Failing to Consider eBay Factors

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.

Note:

  • 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.”

Irreparable Harm of Generic Competition: Federal Circuit Affirms Finding that Generic Entry Does not Cause Irreparable Harm

Altana Pharma & Wyeth v. Teva (Fed. Cir. 2009)200905141300.jpg

Altana’s Patent No. 4,758,579 claims the proton pump inhibitor pantoprazole – the active ingredient the anti-ulcer drug Protonix®. Of course, PPI’s were known before Altana’s patent and even one of Altana’s own prior patents discusses a “compound 12″ that is structurally similar to those claimed in the ’579 patent.

Teva and Sun filed for permission to begin making generic versions of the drug, and Altana subsequently filed this infringement action. (Altana filed separate actions that were consolidated.)

This appeal stems from the New Jersey district court’s denial of Altana’s motion for a preliminary injunction. The lower court found that the patentee had failed to prove two critical prerequisites of equitable preliminary relief: (1) a likelihood of success on the merits and (2) irreparable harm.

The equitable test for preliminary injunctive relief requires that the requesting party prove:

  1. a reasonable likelihood of success on the merits;
  2. irreparable harm if an injunction is not granted;
  3. a balance of hardships tipping in its favor; and
  4. the injunction’s favorable impact on the public interest.

Although the ultimate grant or denial of preliminary relief is within the “sound discretion of the district court,” failure to abide by these four factors would be reversible error. Orders to grant or deny a preliminary injunction are immediately appealable.

Likelihood of Success: The Federal Circuit has held that preliminary relief should be denied if the accused infringer raises a “substantial question” of invalidity of the asserted claims. At the PI stage, the court need not consider the ultimate “clear and convincing” standard. Rather, the focus is on “vulnerability.”

Obviousness of Chemical Compound: When considering the obviousness of a chemical compound, courts ordinarily first look for a “lead compound” known in the prior art and then consider whether a chemist would have had some reason to modify the known compound in the particular manner to achieve the new compound. Courts are not rigidly bound by this ordinary approach – thus, for instance, a court may look to multiple lead compounds:

Moreover, to the extent Altana suggests that the prior art must point to only a single lead compound for further development efforts, that restrictive view of the lead compound test would present a rigid test similar to the teaching-suggestion-motivation test that the Supreme Court explicitly rejected in KSR.

Here, the appellate panel found “ample evidence” that a chemist would have chosen “compound 12″ as a natural choice for further PPI research. The particular modification of compound 12 was then suggested in articles by Sachs and Bryson who were researching properties of effective PPIs.

Considering this evidence as a whole, the Federal Circuit found it sufficient to raise a substantial question of obviousness.

Irreparable Harm: The district court could not find any irreparable harm of allowing infringement during the course of the litigation. Often, money damages are seen as insufficient when the defendant does not have cash-on-hand. Here, however, Teva and Sun both have plenty. The court also found that Altana almost certainly has a business plan to deal with the launch of generics. During the litigation, Nycomed purchased Altana — seemingly in the lower court’s view, that purchase also indicates that money damages are adequate (since a price can be placed on the company & its patent rights).

Perhaps most harmful to Altana was that the lower court found the patentee’s statements of harms “exaggerated” and lacking “credibility.” A court sitting in equity righty places a dim light on activities suggestive of unclean hands.

On appeal, the Federal Circuit affirmed without significantly commenting on the merits. Rather, the court made this case about equitable discretion: “the law cited by the district court highlights this court’s deference to a district court’s determination whether a movant has sufficiently shown irreparable harm.”

Denial of Preliminary Injunction Affirmed

Judge Newman wrote a short concurring opinion.

Although the evidence presented to the district court does not, in my view, establish invalidity of the patent on the pharmaceutical product pantoprazole, see, Gonzales v. O Centro Espirita Beneficente Uniao do Vegetal, 546 U.S. 418, 429 (2006) (“the burdens at the preliminary injunction stage track the burdens at trial.”) at this preliminary stage deference is warranted to the district court’s weighing of the conflicting expert opinions interpreting the evidence. On this basis, I concur in sustaining this discretionary action.

No Stay of District Court Proceedings Pending Appeal of Preliminary Injunction

Fairchild Semiconductor v. Third Dimension (3D) Semiconductor 200903292047.jpg (Fed. Cir. 2009) (nonprecedential order)

Fairchild originally licensed 3D's US and Chinese patents – agreeing to a royalty for all Fairchild products "covered by" a 3D patent. However, after analyzing the patents, Fairchild decided that it need not pay any royalties and then sued for a declaratory judgment that it owed no royalties and that none of its products are covered by 3D's patents.

Restraining License Termination: In a preliminary ruling, the district court granted Fairchild's request for a preliminary injunction prohibiting 3D from terminating the license agreement. The ongoing license serves as a defense to charges of patent infringement by 3D. As the district court held, "termination of the agreement does create irreparable harm in depriving Fairchild of its primary defense to 3D patent infringement litigation.

The threat of such litigation is not speculative: 3D has already filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas and has promised to file an infringement case in China based on the Chinese patents otherwise licensed by the Agreement. Without the Agreement as an affirmative defense to those suits, Fairchild could be forced to endure years of litigation in those other forums despite this Court eventually ruling that Fairchild did not breach the Agreement.

The preliminary injunction is now on appeal to the Federal Circuit. In a recent order, the appellate panel rejected 3D's motion to stay the district court proceedings pending outcome of the appeal. 3D argued that the appeal divested the district court with jurisdiction over the matter. That argument was regarded "without merit."

A preliminary injunction, i.e., an injunction pendente lite, is an injunction issued pending the ongoing litigation. Although a district court may not proceed with matters involved with the injunction itself, e.g., it may not amend the injunction, or make findings to support its injunction while the injunction is on appeal, the district court may proceed with the litigation and permit discovery, enter rulings on summary judgment, or hold a trial on the merits. (internal citations omitted)

Briefing in the appeal will begin in April.

Notes & Docs:

Forward Looking Patent Damages

In the wake of eBay, courts and scholars have been working to figure out what to do after denying injunctive relief. A common suggestion is to award an ongoing royalty – often termed a compulsory license. In an impressive body of research stretching back to the year 1660, Lewis & Clark professor Tomás Gómez-Arostegui concludes that “federal courts lack the authority, in either law or equity, to award prospective compensation to plaintiffs for post-judgment copyright or patent infringements.”

Until such time as Congress creates a new form of compulsory licensing, future-damage awards and continuing royalties can only be granted in lieu of a final injunction by consent of the parties.

In non-patent cases, such as accidental death, courts regularly calculate future damages – such as earning capacity. However, in those cases, the award is based on a past tort. In patent cases, prospective damages are based upon future infringing actions.

Looking historically, Gómez-Arostegui could not find a single instance prior to 1789 where the Chancery “awarded a continuing royalty in lieu of a final injunction in infringement cases.” In cases where no injunction was granted, the court did “nothing at all” about ongoing infringement.

How does this cut:

Read the paper here.

Patently-O Bits and Bytes No. 95

  • Injunctive Relief: I re-read Michelle Lee's (Google) statement about the need for patent reform. One issue that jumped-out this time: No mention of injunctions. Money is still at stake, but Google appears confident that it won't face a shut-down even if it loses a patent case. In that sense, Google is lucky that it is being sued by non-practicing entities who as a de facto rule don't get injunctive relief against infringers who have a major market share.
  • Benefit of Trade Secrets: Avoid Charges of Infringement. In some senses, google is very public. Yet, its actual operation is quite secretive. One benefit of that type of operation is that it helps avoid charges of patent infringement. If patentee's can't tell how you operate, it makes it much more difficult to assert charges of infringement.
  • Warranties and Copyright: My colleague Marc Roark has an interesting new paper: Limitation of Sales Warranties as an Alternative to Intellectual Property Rights: An Empirical Analysis of Iphone Warranties' Deterrent Impact on Consumers.
  • The BPAI Watchdog: http://bpaiwatchdog.blogspot.com/. So far, Leigh Martinson is focusing on the BPAI's application of Bilski.
  • European Bilski: The Enlarged Board of Appeal of the EPO is looking for third-party input on four issues:
    1. Is it only proper to exclude patents covering computer programs as such when explicitly claimed as a "computer program"?
    2. Does a claim avoid the computer program as such exclusion by mentioning a computer or data storage medium? (If not, what technical effect is needed?)
    3. Can a technical effect be non-physical? Is it sufficient if the physical entity is an unspecified computer?
    4. Does the activity of programming a computer necessarily involve technical considerations?
  • Input on the European questions are due by the end of April. http://www.epo.org/topics/news/2009/20090219.html.
  • Application for the job of PTO Director (by Prof Morris) http://www.stanford.edu/~rjmorris/pto.htm. I maintain that it is possible to find an excellent nominee who is not a patent attorney. However, any nominee who does not have extensive experience with the patent prosecution process will face an uphill credibility battle from day one.

Patently-O Bits and Bytes No. 95

  • Injunctive Relief: I re-read Michelle Lee’s (Google) statement about the need for patent reform. One issue that jumped-out this time: No mention of injunctions. Money is still at stake, but Google appears confident that it won’t face a shut-down even if it loses a patent case. In that sense, Google is lucky that it is being sued by non-practicing entities who as a de facto rule don’t get injunctive relief against infringers who have a major market share.
  • Benefit of Trade Secrets: Avoid Charges of Infringement. In some senses, google is very public. Yet, its actual operation is quite secretive. One benefit of that type of operation is that it helps avoid charges of patent infringement. If patentee’s can’t tell how you operate, it makes it much more difficult to assert charges of infringement.
  • Warranties and Copyright: My colleague Marc Roark has an interesting new paper: Limitation of Sales Warranties as an Alternative to Intellectual Property Rights: An Empirical Analysis of Iphone Warranties’ Deterrent Impact on Consumers.
  • The BPAI Watchdog: http://bpaiwatchdog.blogspot.com/. So far, Leigh Martinson is focusing on the BPAI’s application of Bilski.
  • European Bilski: The Enlarged Board of Appeal of the EPO is looking for third-party input on four issues:
    1. Is it only proper to exclude patents covering computer programs as such when explicitly claimed as a “computer program”?
    2. Does a claim avoid the computer program as such exclusion by mentioning a computer or data storage medium? (If not, what technical effect is needed?)
    3. Can a technical effect be non-physical? Is it sufficient if the physical entity is an unspecified computer?
    4. Does the activity of programming a computer necessarily involve technical considerations?
  • Input on the European questions are due by the end of April. http://www.epo.org/topics/news/2009/20090219.html.
  • Application for the job of PTO Director (by Prof Morris) http://www.stanford.edu/~rjmorris/pto.htm. I maintain that it is possible to find an excellent nominee who is not a patent attorney. However, any nominee who does not have extensive experience with the patent prosecution process will face an uphill credibility battle from day one.

Patently-O Bits and Bytes No. 95

  • Injunctive Relief: I re-read Michelle Lee's (Google) statement about the need for patent reform. One issue that jumped-out this time: No mention of injunctions. Money is still at stake, but Google appears confident that it won't face a shut-down even if it loses a patent case. In that sense, Google is lucky that it is being sued by non-practicing entities who as a de facto rule don't get injunctive relief against infringers who have a major market share.
  • Benefit of Trade Secrets: Avoid Charges of Infringement. In some senses, google is very public. Yet, its actual operation is quite secretive. One benefit of that type of operation is that it helps avoid charges of patent infringement. If patentee's can't tell how you operate, it makes it much more difficult to assert charges of infringement.
  • Warranties and Copyright: My colleague Marc Roark has an interesting new paper: Limitation of Sales Warranties as an Alternative to Intellectual Property Rights: An Empirical Analysis of Iphone Warranties' Deterrent Impact on Consumers.
  • The BPAI Watchdog: http://bpaiwatchdog.blogspot.com/. So far, Leigh Martinson is focusing on the BPAI's application of Bilski.
  • European Bilski: The Enlarged Board of Appeal of the EPO is looking for third-party input on four issues:
    1. Is it only proper to exclude patents covering computer programs as such when explicitly claimed as a "computer program"?
    2. Does a claim avoid the computer program as such exclusion by mentioning a computer or data storage medium? (If not, what technical effect is needed?)
    3. Can a technical effect be non-physical? Is it sufficient if the physical entity is an unspecified computer?
    4. Does the activity of programming a computer necessarily involve technical considerations?
  • Input on the European questions are due by the end of April. http://www.epo.org/topics/news/2009/20090219.html.
  • Application for the job of PTO Director (by Prof Morris) http://www.stanford.edu/~rjmorris/pto.htm. I maintain that it is possible to find an excellent nominee who is not a patent attorney. However, any nominee who does not have extensive experience with the patent prosecution process will face an uphill credibility battle from day one.

Federal Circuit affirms permanent injunction in face of prior license agreements

PatentlyO2006102_thumb1_1Acumed LLC v. Stryker Corp. (Fed. Cir. 2008)

In 2004, Acumed sued Stryker for infringing a patent covering an orthopedic nail used in reconstructing humerus fractures.  After a jury verdict of infringement, the district court ordered a permanent injunction. That pre-eBay ruling was subsequently vacated by the Federal Circuit because the lower court did not specifically consider the traditional four-factor test for injunctive relief. On remand, the district court again granted the permanent injunction.  That permanent injunction is affirmed here on appeal.

In eBay, the Supreme Court held that the traditional four factors of equitable relief must be considered before granting injunctive relief in a patent infringement case.  However, if a district court considers the requisite factors, the Federal Circuit will only vacate if they find an “abuse of discretion.” 

Irreparable Harm and Lack of Remedy at Law: The first two factors of (1) irreparable harm caused by continued infringement and (2) inadequate remedies available at law almost entirely overlap. The court easily considered those factors together. 

Acumed had previously licensed the patents to other manufacturers — perhaps indicating that money could be sufficient to compensate for the infringement. However, the district court distinguished the prior licenses based on the identities of the past licensees and Acumed’s more recent “experience in the market.”  The Federal Circuit found no abuse of discretion — noting that “[a] plaintiff’s past willingness to license its patent is not sufficient per se to establish lack of irreparable harm if a new infringer were licensed.” 

The Jury had awarded lost profit damages, and Acumed suggested that fact indicates that future harms would cause irreparable harm (or at least more than what would be compensated by a reasonable royalty).  On appeal, the Federal Circuit did not dispute (or explicitly affirm) this argument. However the court did note that “[t]he essential attribute of a patent grant is that it provides a right to exclude competitors from infringing the patent.”

Balance of Hardships: For the third factor – balancing the hardships – Stryker argued that its customers (who need their arms fixed) would suffer under an injunction. On appeal, the Federal Circuit rejected that argument as a matter of law — holding that the balancing factor “is only between a plaintiff and a defendant, and thus the effect on customers and patients alleged by Stryker is irrelevant.”  Under this construct of the balancing factor, the patentee will usually win — especially when applying the Windsurfing holding that “One who elects to build a business on a product found to infringe cannot be heard to complain if an injunction against continuing infringement destroys the business so elected.”

Public Interest: The patentee must show that the public interest is “not dissereved by an injunction.”  Here, Stryker argued that the Acumed product was lower quality and that the arm bone repair would lead to increased morbidity. The district court did not find that public health argument persuasive and the Federal Circuit agreed that “the court was within its discretion to conclude that the public interest was not disserved by an injunction.”

Permanent Injunction Affirmed

Notes:

  • The Jury found the infringement “willful.” That fact was not discussed in the eBay analysis.
  • This case follows the conventional wisdom that the courts will continue to grant permanent injunctions against competitors who infringe.

Federal Circuit affirms permanent injunction in face of prior license agreements

PatentlyO2006102_thumb1_1Acumed LLC v. Stryker Corp. (Fed. Cir. 2008)

In 2004, Acumed sued Stryker for infringing a patent covering an orthopedic nail used in reconstructing humerus fractures.  After a jury verdict of infringement, the district court ordered a permanent injunction. That pre-eBay ruling was subsequently vacated by the Federal Circuit because the lower court did not specifically consider the traditional four-factor test for injunctive relief. On remand, the district court again granted the permanent injunction.  That permanent injunction is affirmed here on appeal.

In eBay, the Supreme Court held that the traditional four factors of equitable relief must be considered before granting injunctive relief in a patent infringement case.  However, if a district court considers the requisite factors, the Federal Circuit will only vacate if they find an “abuse of discretion.” 

Irreparable Harm and Lack of Remedy at Law: The first two factors of (1) irreparable harm caused by continued infringement and (2) inadequate remedies available at law almost entirely overlap. The court easily considered those factors together. 

Acumed had previously licensed the patents to other manufacturers — perhaps indicating that money could be sufficient to compensate for the infringement. However, the district court distinguished the prior licenses based on the identities of the past licensees and Acumed’s more recent “experience in the market.”  The Federal Circuit found no abuse of discretion — noting that “[a] plaintiff’s past willingness to license its patent is not sufficient per se to establish lack of irreparable harm if a new infringer were licensed.” 

The Jury had awarded lost profit damages, and Acumed suggested that fact indicates that future harms would cause irreparable harm (or at least more than what would be compensated by a reasonable royalty).  On appeal, the Federal Circuit did not dispute (or explicitly affirm) this argument. However the court did note that “[t]he essential attribute of a patent grant is that it provides a right to exclude competitors from infringing the patent.”

Balance of Hardships: For the third factor – balancing the hardships – Stryker argued that its customers (who need their arms fixed) would suffer under an injunction. On appeal, the Federal Circuit rejected that argument as a matter of law — holding that the balancing factor “is only between a plaintiff and a defendant, and thus the effect on customers and patients alleged by Stryker is irrelevant.”  Under this construct of the balancing factor, the patentee will usually win — especially when applying the Windsurfing holding that “One who elects to build a business on a product found to infringe cannot be heard to complain if an injunction against continuing infringement destroys the business so elected.”

Public Interest: The patentee must show that the public interest is “not dissereved by an injunction.”  Here, Stryker argued that the Acumed product was lower quality and that the arm bone repair would lead to increased morbidity. The district court did not find that public health argument persuasive and the Federal Circuit agreed that “the court was within its discretion to conclude that the public interest was not disserved by an injunction.”

Permanent Injunction Affirmed

Notes:

  • The Jury found the infringement “willful.” That fact was not discussed in the eBay analysis.
  • This case follows the conventional wisdom that the courts will continue to grant permanent injunctions against competitors who infringe.