Limiting Damages: $107 Million Interest Charge Improperly Awarded On-Top of Pre-Agreed Damages

By Dennis Crouch

Sanofi-Aventis v. Apotex (Fed. Cir. 2011)

The case focuses on Sanofi’s patent covering clopidrogrel bisulfate tablets sold under the trade name Plavix. ($4.5 billion in annual sales). In 2001, the generic drug manufacturer Apotex filed an abbreviated new drug application (ANDA) with the FDA – requesting that it be allowed to manufacture a generic version on the drug and alleging that Sanofi’s patent was invalid. Sanofi sued for infringement.

Pre-Judgment Agreement to Limit Damages: May 2006, the parties came to a limited agreement that any actual damages for infringement would be limited to “50% of Apotex’s net sales.” The agreement stated that:

If the litigation results in a judgment that the ’265 patent is not invalid or unenforceable, Sanofi agrees that its actual damages for any past infringement by Apotex, up to the date on which Apotex is enjoined, will be 50% of Apotex’s net sales of clopidogrel products . . . . Sanofi further agrees that it will not seek increased damages under 35 U.S.C. § 284.

Apotex subsequently began marking its generic product before being stopped a few weeks later by a preliminary injunction. After Sanofi won the infringement trial, the judge set damages for that infringement at 50% of net sales plus interest. In dollar figures, damages were $442 million and the interest charge was $107 million. The district court had agreed that it should be bound by the prior agreement between the parties, but held that the agreement only limited damages and did not limit interest.

Contract Specification: Of course the contract could have spelled-out whether the limitation applied to interest charges, and the parties most certainly considered that issue during negotiations. But, for whatever, reason, they chose not to specify in the contract whether interest charges should be limited. Thus, the court was forced to consider the proper default rule for this situation.

At the Federal Circuit, Apotex argues that the interest payment should be included as part of the damage award and that the judgment therefore exceeds the agreed upon 50% damage limitation. In a 2-1 decision, the Federal Circuit has sided with Apotex – holding that the phrase “actual damages” as used in the contract “include[s] all damages necessary to compensate Sanofi for Apotex’s infringement.”

Because prejudgment interest is a form of compensatory damages, the district court erred by awarding additional prejudgment interest pursuant to 35 U.S.C. § 284.

In the majority opinion, Judge Moore relied both on the contractual language and on the history of compensatory damages that traditionally include both a reasonable royalty calculated at the point of infringement and interests charges for the delay in payment. Both of those elements are part of the “actual damages” calculation necessary to fully compensate the patent holder for past infringement. This follows the view espoused by the Supreme Court in its 1983 case involving General Motors where the court wrote:

An award of interest from the time that the royalty payments would have been received merely serves to make the patent owner whole, since his damages consist not only of the value of the royalty payments but also of the forgone use of the money between the time of infringement and the date of judgment.

Gen. Motors Corp. v. Devex Corp., 461 U.S. 648, 655 (1983).

Patent Act Damages: As usual, the language of the Patent Act is somewhat ambiguous on the meaning of damages. The first paragraph of Section 284 calls for an award of “damages adequate to compensate for the infringement but in no event less than a reasonable royalty for the use made of the invention by the infringer, together with interest and costs as fixed by the court.” One view of this provision would require damages to be, at a minimum, a combination of a reasonable royalty plus interests and costs. In my view, however, the better plain meaning interpretation of Section 284 is that a court is required to award damages (minimum of reasonable royalty) and in addition must award interest and costs.

The appellate panel rejected the parties’ analysis of the language of the patent act as irrelevant – holding instead that “actual damages” was a contract term and that the interpretation therefore does not depend upon any statutory language.

While interesting, these arguments neither illuminate nor resolve the issue before us – the meaning of “actual damages” in the May 2006 agreement. The agreed upon “actual damages” are a creature of contract and not of the Patent Act. By entering into the May 2006 agreement, the parties decided that the agreement itself – not § 271(e)(4)(C) or § 284 – would govern the appropriate measure of damages from Apotex’s infringement.

Writing in Dissent, Judge Newman would have applied the usual background rule that interest is different from damages as a primary driving factor in interpreting the contract. In that framework, the contractual limitation on damages would not apply to limit interest as well.

My colleagues err in reading the contract’s silence on interest for infringement as meaning that the parties intended and agreed to forgo the interest to which the patentee is entitled by statute and precedent. I must, respectfully, dissent

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WiAV Solutions v. Motorola: Clarifying the Meaning of “Exclusive Licensee”

By Jason Rantanen

WiAV Solutions LLC v. Motorola, Inc. (Fed. Cir. 2010)
Panel: Rader, Linn (author), Dyk

WiAV is the purported exclusive licensee of seven patents relating to aspects of signal transmission and data encoding/decoding owned by Mindspeed Technologies, Inc.  In 2009, WiAV sued a set of companies including Motorola, Inc.; Nokia Corporation; Palm, Inc.; and Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications (USA), Inc. for infringement of the Mindspeed patents.  The defendants contended, and the district court agreed, that WiAV lacked constitutional standing to assert the patents because WiAV is not an exclusive licensee of the patents under Textile Productions, Inc. v. Mead. Corp., 134 F.3d 1481 (Fed. Cir. 1998), which they argued holds that a party cannot be an exclusive licensee of a patent when a third party has the right to license the patent. 

In reversing the district court's dismissal, the CAFC rejected this argument, instead holding that "a licensee is an exclusive licensee of a patent if it holds any of the exclusionary rights that accompany a patent."  Slip. Op. at 17 (emphasis added). This decision is in the vein of the court's earlier decision this year in Alfred E. Mann Foundation For Scientific Research v. Cochlear Corp., 604 F.3d 1354, in which it concluded that a licensee is an exclusive licensee of a patent despite retaining the ability to license the patent to settle lawsuits. 

Scope of the Licensing
The licensing rights at issue were held by six third parties, and stemmed from a series of spin-offs and other agreements that occurred as the patents were transferred from company to company. For example, when Rockwell International Corporation, the original owner of the Mindspeed patents, assigned them to Conexant, the second owner, its subsidiary, Rockwell Science Center, received a limited, non-exclusive license to use the patents in connection with its business, along with the right to sublicense to Rockwell International and its "Affiliates," or to transfer the license in connection with the sale of the respective businesses to which the intellectual property rights relate.  The district court found that several of these licensees retained a limited right to license the patents in the field of wireless handsets, and concluded that under Textile Productions, WiAV could thus not be an exclusive licensee of the Mindspeed Patents.

Any Exclusionary Rights
On appeal, the CAFC rejected the argument that, under Textile Productions  "a licensee cannot be an exclusive licensee of a patent if others retain the right to license the patent."  Slip. Op. at 11.  Turning straight to the constitutional analysis, the court held that the standing determination  focuses only on whether a party has any exclusionary right in a patent:

Because the legally protected interests in a patent are the exclusionary rights created by the Patent Act, a party holding one or more of those exclusionary rights—such as an exclusive licensee—suffers a legally cognizable injury when an unauthorized party encroaches upon those rights and therefore has standing to sue. 

Thus, the touchstone of constitutional standing in a patent infringement suit is whether a party can establish that it has an exclusionary right in a patent that, if violated by another, would cause the party holding the exclusionary right to suffer legal injury. Contrary to the suggestion of the Defendants, neither this court’s Textile Productions nor Mars decision freed the constitutional standing inquiry from its legal injury mooring.

Slip Op. at 14-15.  Textile Productions, on the other hand, involved only the narrow question of whether a particular type of contract, a requirements contract for a patented product, automatically converts the exclusive supplier into an exclusive licensee.  "Nowhere did the Textile Productions court suggest that a party holding one or more of the exclusionary rights in a patent does not have standing to sue to protect those rights against infringement by an unauthorized third party. Nor is there any indication that the court created a bright-line rule that a party cannot be an exclusive licensee of a patent if others have the right to license the patent."  Slip. Op. at 16.

The CAFC did impose one important limitation on the broad rule for standing: "Because an exclusive licensee derives its standing from the exclusionary rights it holds, it follows that its standing will ordinarily be coterminous with those rights."  Slip Op. at 17. Thus, an exclusive licensee may have standing to sue some parties, but not others; it may also lack standing to sue a party who has the ability to obtain a license from another party with the right to grant it. 

Applying its holding, the court concluded that none of the pre-existing licenses granted the right to license the Defendants to practice the patents in WiAV's field of exclusivity, and thus WiAV possessed constitutional standing for this case. 

Note: WiAV does not disturb the requirement that "[a]n exclusive licenseee generally must join the patent owner to the suit to satisfy prudential standing constraints, i.e., the 'judicially self-imposed limits on the exercise of federal jurisdiction.'" Slip Op. at 14-15, fn. 1.  Here, WiAV had satisfied those concerns by adding Mindspeed to the suit as the "defendant patent owner." 

Intellectual Ventures Takes First Overt Legal Actions to Enforce its Mammoth Patent Portfolio

By Dennis Crouch

In a bold move, the patent holding company Intellectual Ventures has filed three separate patent infringement lawsuits against major industry players.

Over the past several years, Intellectual Ventures has amassed a large patent portfolio that is held by a complex web of subsidiary companies. According to its court filings:

Intellectual Ventures has purchased more than 30,000 patents and patent applications and, in the process, has paid hundreds of millions of dollars to individual inventors for their inventions. Intellectual Ventures, in turn, has earned nearly $2 billion by licensing these patents to some of the world's most innovative and successful technology companies.

In the first suit, Intellectual Ventures sued Check Point Software, McAfee, Symantec, and Trend Micro for infringement of Patent Nos. 5,987,610, 6,073,142, 6,460,050, and 7,506,155. These patents were originally owned by Ameritech which merged with SBC. According to USPTO assignment records, SBC assigned its rights to the University of Texas which then assigned rights to Verve, an IP broker. Verve then assigned its rights to AUCTNYC8. The assignment to Intellectual Ventures itself has not been recorded. To be clear, the case caption actually states that the plaintiff is "Intellectual Ventures I LLC." The other two lawsuits involve some combination of Intellectual Ventures I, II, and III, respectively. Other defendants include Hynix Semiconductor, Elpida Memory, Altera, Lattice Semiconductor, and Microsemi (Actel). At least some of the patents being asserted against Altera and Lattice Semiconductor were originally owned by AMD, and then transferred to Legerity. At least one other patent asserted in the lawsuits was invented by noted chip designer Bob Proebsting. After his death, the patent was held by the Proebsting estate. Although Intellectual Ventures (I – III) claims ownership in their complaints, PTO records do not reflect that ownership.

In a press release, Intellectual Ventures issued a warning blow to other potential defendants:

Over the years, Intellectual Ventures has successfully negotiated license agreements with some of the top technology companies in the world. However, some companies have chosen to ignore our requests for good faith negotiations and discussions. Protecting our invention rights through these actions is the right choice for our investors, inventors and current licensees.

Intellectual Venture's chief litigation counsel is Melissa Finocchio who was previously with Micron, Orrick, and Cooley. The company's outside counsel include an all-star cast of Former Delaware Judge Joseph Farnan; John Desmarais; Jared Bobrow; and Parker Folse. All the suits have been filed in Judge Farnan's hometown District of Delaware.

Notes:

Interval Licensing v. AOL, Apple, eBay, Facebook, Google, etc.

Interval Licensing LLC v. AOL, Apple, eBay, Facebook, Google, Netflix, Office Depot, OfficeMax, Staples, Yahoo!, and YouTube (W.D. Wash. 2010).

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen started Interval Research in 1992. During the 1990’s, the company filed for several user-interface related patents that were primarily intended to improve a computer user's online experience. The patents focus on what I might call “lightweight” usability ideas such as a occupying the peripheral attention of a user; organizing audio/visual for display in a browser; and alerting users to items of current interest.

When Interval closed its doors, the patents were transferred to Vulcan Patents LLC (presumably another Paul Allen company) and then to Interval Licensing which remains a Paul Allen company.

PatentLawPic1133

The patents are well drafted. Of course, even excellent drafting cannot cure obviousness problems. I suspect that the litigation will focus primarily on whether these inventions were obvious back when the patents were filed? In addition to arguing in court, I expect that the defendants will also appeal to the US Patent Office — asking the agency to take a second look at the patents via reexamination.

Take claim 1 of asserted Patent No. 6,757,682 (filed in 2000) as an example.

1. A system for disseminating to a participant an indication that an item accessible by the participant via a network is of current interest, comprising:

a computer configured to

receive in real time from a source other than the participant an indication that the item is of current interest;

process the indication;

determine an intensity value to be associated with the indication and an intensity weight value, and adjusting the intensity value based on a characteristic for the item provided by the source; and

inform the participant that the item is of current interest; and

a database, associated with the computer, configured to store data relating to the item.

I don’t have any prior art on hand, but the claim sure feels obvious (in hindsight)…

Of course, the system embodied in claim 1 above represents an important core feature of services provided by all of the listed defendants. (A similar story can be told of the other asserted patents.) Thus, if the patents are valid, the damage award could be quite large.

It may be important to note that the complaint does not suggest that any of the defendants copied the invention from Paul Allen's company or that the defendants even knew about the patents before today. Of course, a patentee does not have to show copying in order to prove patent infringement and back-damages can still be available even when the infringement occurred without knowledge of the patent. (Additional punitive damages may be awarded if the infringement was willful).

It will be interesting to see how the Supreme Court’s foray into patent law over the past four-years will impact this case. I look to three important decisions:

  1. In KSR v. Teleflex, the Supreme Court raised the patentability standard of nonobviousness — making it more likely that these patents will be held invalid as obvious.
  2. In Bilski v. Kappos, the Supreme Court held that certain business method inventions are not patentable. Some of the claims in the patents-in-suit may be susceptible to a similar attack. However, most of the asserted claims appear to be tied closely to a technological implementation in a way that may avoid problems under Bilski.
  3. In EBay v. MercExchange, the Supreme Court made it more difficult for patent holding companies (such as the plaintiff here) to obtain an injunction to stop ongoing infringement. Of course, it is unlikely that Interval actually wants to stop infringement — rather, the company is looking for a large license fee.

Final point: The vast majority of patent cases settle. Here, however, all of the parties have large amounts of cash-on-hand. In addition, some of the defendants are repeat patent infringement defendants. Those factors tend to make settlement less likely.

Bits and Bytes No. 116

  • Comments on Patently-O: I have updated the commenting software. Now there are threaded comments, so it is easier to reply directly to a prior comment. If you sign-up for a free Typepad account then you can personalize the image associated with your moniker.
  • Law Firms as Patent Owners: Photo site SmugMug recently filed a declaratory judgment action against the patent holding entity VPS, LLC. VPS previously settled with Pictage earning a "multi-million dollar fee" as well as with Kodak Gallery and Shutterfly. VPS's ownership is interesting. Its managing partners are all patent attorneys: Carl Moore (patent attorney at Marshall Gerstein); Timothy Vezeau (patent attorney at Katten Muchin); and Nate Sarpelli. The VPS patents were originally assigned to Monet, Inc. but subsequently assigned to the Marshall Gerstein firm. In 2002, the law firm assigned the rights to VPS. (See Pat. No. 6,321,231). SmugMug Complaint for Declaratory Judgment.pdf
  • Design Patent Customs Registration: The IPO has voted to support a statutory change that would create a design patent registry within the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) bureau of the Department of Homeland Security. The CBP already keeps a registry of trademarks and copyrights to assist customs agents in preventing infringing importation through any of the 317 official ports of entry into the US. [CBP E-Recordation System] (No bill has been proposed.)
  • Tivo v. DISH and EchoStar: $190 million.
  • Update Your PTO Registration Data Online: Link. Before you can use the system, the OED will first send a letter to you with a User ID. After you respond, you will be sent a password.

Bits and Bytes No. 116

  • Comments on Patently-O: I have updated the commenting software. Now there are threaded comments, so it is easier to reply directly to a prior comment. If you sign-up for a free Typepad account then you can personalize the image associated with your moniker.
  • Law Firms as Patent Owners: Photo site SmugMug recently filed a declaratory judgment action against the patent holding entity VPS, LLC. VPS previously settled with Pictage earning a “multi-million dollar fee” as well as with Kodak Gallery and Shutterfly. VPS’s ownership is interesting. Its managing partners are all patent attorneys: Carl Moore (patent attorney at Marshall Gerstein); Timothy Vezeau (patent attorney at Katten Muchin); and Nate Sarpelli. The VPS patents were originally assigned to Monet, Inc. but subsequently assigned to the Marshall Gerstein firm. In 2002, the law firm assigned the rights to VPS. (See Pat. No. 6,321,231). SmugMug Complaint for Declaratory Judgment.pdf
  • Design Patent Customs Registration: The IPO has voted to support a statutory change that would create a design patent registry within the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) bureau of the Department of Homeland Security. The CBP already keeps a registry of trademarks and copyrights to assist customs agents in preventing infringing importation through any of the 317 official ports of entry into the US. [CBP E-Recordation System] (No bill has been proposed.)
  • Tivo v. DISH and EchoStar: $190 million.
  • Update Your PTO Registration Data Online: Link. Before you can use the system, the OED will first send a letter to you with a User ID. After you respond, you will be sent a password.

Bits and Bytes No. 116

  • Comments on Patently-O: I have updated the commenting software. Now there are threaded comments, so it is easier to reply directly to a prior comment. If you sign-up for a free Typepad account then you can personalize the image associated with your moniker.
  • Law Firms as Patent Owners: Photo site SmugMug recently filed a declaratory judgment action against the patent holding entity VPS, LLC. VPS previously settled with Pictage earning a "multi-million dollar fee" as well as with Kodak Gallery and Shutterfly. VPS's ownership is interesting. Its managing partners are all patent attorneys: Carl Moore (patent attorney at Marshall Gerstein); Timothy Vezeau (patent attorney at Katten Muchin); and Nate Sarpelli. The VPS patents were originally assigned to Monet, Inc. but subsequently assigned to the Marshall Gerstein firm. In 2002, the law firm assigned the rights to VPS. (See Pat. No. 6,321,231). SmugMug Complaint for Declaratory Judgment.pdf
  • Design Patent Customs Registration: The IPO has voted to support a statutory change that would create a design patent registry within the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) bureau of the Department of Homeland Security. The CBP already keeps a registry of trademarks and copyrights to assist customs agents in preventing infringing importation through any of the 317 official ports of entry into the US. [CBP E-Recordation System] (No bill has been proposed.)
  • Tivo v. DISH and EchoStar: $190 million.
  • Update Your PTO Registration Data Online: Link. Before you can use the system, the OED will first send a letter to you with a User ID. After you respond, you will be sent a password.

Impact of Merger/Buyout on Prior Agreement to Not Challenge Patent Validity

Epistar v. ITC (and Philips Lumileds Lighting) (Fed. Cir. 2009) 07-1457.pdf

Merger: Lumileds owns a patent covering a light-emitting diode (LED) with an electrically conductive window layer that is both brighter and more efficient than other LEDs. The conductive layer helps spread the flow of electrical current avoid “current crowding.”

At issue in this case is the impact of a corporate merger/buyout on a settlement agreement that included a promise to not challenge a patent’s validity.

Lumileds and Epistar have signed at least two prior settlement agreements involving the patent at issue here. In those agreements, Epistar agreed to pay a licensing fee for certain products, but reserved its right to challenge the patent if Lumileds asserted the patent against other patents. A third company, UEC, agreed that neither it nor its successors would later challenge the validity of the Lumileds patents.

Subsequently, Epistar purchased UEC, and the patentee argued that UEC’s agreement should also bind Epistar. On appeal, the Federal Circuit partially rejected that argument – holding that the UEC settlement continues to bind the parties, but only “as understood and intended by them, according to its ordinary terms.” Thus, even though Epistar took on all the legal obligations of UEC, Epistar can still challenge the Lumileds patent if the case does not involve UEC related products.

UEC’s settlement agreement has preclusive effect upon Epistar only “to the same extent as upon [UEC it]self.” Restatement (Second) of Judgments § 43 (1982). The preclusive effect of that agreement, if any, is limited to UEC’s pre–Epistar product lines. To paraphrase this court in International Nutrition v. Horphag Research, Epistar’s acquisition of UEC does not have the effect of limiting Epistar’s rights that are unrelated to the product lines it acquired from UEC. Accordingly, this court overturns the Commission’s final determination that Epistar is estopped from challenging validity of the ’718 patent when asserted against its own products, separate from the UEC–Lumileds settlement agreement.

Here, the court could have done well to cite the Supreme Court’s decision of Lear v. Adkins and its statements favoring the ability to challenge patent validity based on on “the strong federal policy favoring the full and free use of ideas in the public domain.”

Patent Licenses Include Inherent Rights Allowing Third-Party Manufacture

Corebrace, LLC. v. Star Seismic LLC pic-35.jpg (Fed. Cir. 2009) 08-1502.pdf

Corebrace’s patent covers an earthquake-resistant brace for steel framed buildings. The original rights-holder (the inventor, Benne Murthy Sridhara from Bangalore) first licensed patent rights to Star. Later, the patent rights were assigned to Corebrace.

Star’s nonexclusive license from the inventor grants a right to “make, use, and sell” licensed products. The license also includes a restriction that Star may not “assign, sublicense, or otherwise transfer” its rights – except to an affiliated company. The inventor did already have a relationship with CoreBrace and reserved for that company “all rights not expressly granted” including any improvements created “by a third party whose services have been contracted.”

The question on appeal is whether the license grants Star the right to use third-party contractors to manufacture licensed products for its own use. The Federal Circuit answered in the affirmative – holding that absent a clear disclaimer, a patent license includes a right to use a third party manufacturer.

The right to “make, use, and sell” a product inherently includes the right to have it made by a third party, absent a clear indication of intent to the contrary. (Following Utah law)

Patent licensing is complicated because the contracts are interpreted under state law. Here, the contract indicates that Utah law should be followed. There is not Utah decision on point. However, the Federal Circuit noted its own precedent as well as California Supreme Court cases that “have both persuasively held that a ‘have made’ right is implicit in a right to make, use, and sell, absent an express contrary intent. We consider that the Utah Supreme Court would therefore likely arrive at the same conclusion were it to consider the issue.”

Often, exclusive licensees are implicitly granted greater rights than their non-exclusive counterparts. In the non-exclusive setting – allowing the licensee to subcontract undercuts the patent-holder’s rights; while in an exclusive licensee scenario, the patentee is presumed to have fully exploited its patent rights in that one contract. In this case, however, the Federal Circuit ruled that the implicit right to sub-contract manufacturing does not depend on any exclusive license status.

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:

Open Source License Conditions Enforceable Through Copyright Law

Jacobson v. Katzer (Fed. Cir. 2008)

In an interesting decision, the CAFC held that open source license conditions are enforceable under the copyright laws. Jacobson’s open source license at issue here allowed anyone to use his software so long as his conditions are met (such as making any modified code freely available).

Copyright vs Contract: The district court held that violation of the open source conditions are remedied through a contract claim rather than copyright. The CAFC sided with the copyright holder – holding that “Copyright holders who engage in open source licensing have the right to control the modification and distribution of copyrighted material.”

Copyright holders who engage in open source licensing have the right to control the modification and distribution of copyrighted material. As the Second Circuit explained in Gilliam v. ABC, 538 F.2d 14, 21 (2d Cir. 1976), the “unauthorized editing of the underlying work, if proven, would constitute an infringement of the copyright in that work similar to any other use of a work that exceeded the license granted by the proprietor of the copyright.” Copyright licenses are designed to support the right to exclude; money damages alone do not support or enforce that right. The choice to exact consideration in the form of compliance with the open source requirements of disclosure and explanation of changes, rather than as a dollar-denominated fee, is entitled to no less legal recognition. Indeed, because a calculation of damages is inherently speculative, these types of license restrictions might well be rendered meaningless absent the ability to enforce through injunctive relief.

. . . .

The clear language of the Artistic License creates conditions to protect the economic rights at issue in the granting of a public license. These conditions govern the rights to modify and distribute the computer programs and files included in the downloadable software package. The attribution and modification transparency requirements directly serve to drive traffic to the open source incubation page and to inform downstream users of the project, which is a significant economic goal of the copyright holder that the law will enforce. Through this controlled spread of information, the copyright holder gains creative collaborators to the open source project; by requiring that changes made by downstream users be visible to the copyright holder and others, the copyright holder learns about the uses for his software and gains others’ knowledge that can be used to advance future software releases.

This decision is based on the court’s interpretation of 9th Circuit law. However, its impact on patent law may be a reminder that the court will allow patent infringement actions even when the infringement is based on violation of an intricate or exotic licensing contract.

Federal Circuit Contract Interpretation

PatentLawPic308Lawler Mfg. v. Bradley Corp. (Fed. Cir. 2008)(nonprecedential)

In 2001, Lawler and Bradley settled a patent infringement lawsuit and entered into a contractual license agreement. Bradley was given the right to practice Lawler’s plumbing valve patents in exchange for a 10% royalty.  The license included a combination royalty provision. The royalty licensed parts sold in combination would be charged at a separate (likely lower) royalty rate. 

The dispute on appeal was whether a set of example combinations included in the contract limited the “combination” royalty rate to only a limited set. The particular contract provision read as follows:

“If a Licensed Unit is invoiced or shipped in combination in another product such as an emergency shower or eyewash, [then the combination rate applies.]”

De Novo Construction: Looking much like a claim construction opinion, the CAFC reviewed the contract language de novo (following Indiana law) and reversed the lower court interpretation. In particular, the court found that the “such as” language of the contract limited the combination royalty to only a limited set of combinations. The CAFC found its interpretation necessary to give meaning to the such as clause. As with Federal Circuit claim construction law, Indiana contract law has a preference for giving meaning and effect to all written terms.

“The question before us is whether that term, read in the context of the agreement, is restrictive, as Lawler urges, or merely explanatory, as the court found. We find that it is restrictive. “Such as” refers to items similar to what are recited rather than indicating that the recited items are just examples of what is covered by that provision. . . . The parties’ inclusion of the “such as” phrase … must either have been intended to provide some guidance as to the limited types of combinations that the parties contemplated … or to provide meaningless surplusage. Indiana law constrains us from finding the latter.”

Reversed and remanded.

In dissent, Judge Mayer saw the “such as” language as merely providing examples in much the same way that embodiments provide example implementations of an invention. “[E]mergency eyewashes and showers are examples of combination products, but they are not the only combination products covered by section 3.1 of the licensing agreement.”

Patently-O Tidbits

Supreme Court: Licensee in Good Standing May File Declaratory Judgment

MedImmune v. Genentech (Supreme Court 2007).

Declaratory judgment (DJ) actions are often used by potential defendants to obtain a declaration that a patent is invalid, unenforceable, or not infringed.  Under Federal Circuit law, a licensee cannot challenge a patent without first breaching the license.  The CAFC's reasoning was that a licensee in good standing feels no apprehension of suit since the license is essentially a settlement between the parties. Without an apprehension of suit, the DJ action would not rise to an actual controversy as required by the Constitution.

In a broadly worded opinion, the Supreme Court has scrapped the Federal Circuit's "reasonable-apprehension" test on declaratory judgment standing in favor of a rule that allows licensee's in good-standing to file DJ actions.

We hold that petitioner was not required, insofar as Article III is concerned, to break or terminate its 1997 license agreement before seeking a declaratory judgment in federal court that the underlying patent is invalid, unenforceable, or not infringed.

There are several things to note immediately:

Not Limited to Patents: This case at least extends to all licensing issues and likely to most contracts -- whether or not they involve patents or intellectual property.

Suggested Contractual Work-Around: Reading between the lines, the opinion may indicate that a contractual "prohibition against challenging the validity of the patents." may serve to block challenges by licensee's in good standing. Without the clause, however, the Court found no such prohibition:

To begin with, it is not clear where the prohibition against challenging the validity of the patents is to be found. It can hardly be implied from the mere promise to pay royalties on patents

Regarding apprehension of suit, the Opinion's footnote 11 is a complete divergence from common practice -- finding that a licensee who pays royalties either in fear of an injunctions or for fear of treble damages is being coerced in a way that creates an Article III case or controversy.

Links: