PATENT REFORM: Preventing Inequitable Results Under Knorr-Bremse Willfulness

This post is part of our continuing series discussing a US House of Representatives working draft of patent legislation, by Marcus Thymian, Jennifer Swartz, and Dennis Crouch.

In the landmark decision of Knorr-Bremse v. Dana Corp., an en banc panel of Federal Circuit judges recently held that no adverse inference is to be drawn from the absence of an opinion of counsel in willfulness determinations.  This ruling overruled the Court’s earlier precedent in Quantum and was a dramatic change.  The proposed legislation attempts to balance this swing in jurisprudence by adding a section on willfulness that incorporates the Knorr-Bremse holding while carving out broad exceptions.  

The proposed changes repeat the Knorr-Bremse holding that “[t]he absence of an opinion of counsel shall not create an inference that the infringement was willful.”  Further, the legislation makes mere knowledge of a patent or its contents insufficient for a finding of willfulness against the defendant.

The legislation diverges from Knorr-Bremse by listing “other factors” that may be considered in increasing damages against an infringer.  Included as one such factor is intentional copying by a defendant who has specific knowledge he is infringing patented subject matter.  However, unlike Knorr-Bremse, the defendant must rebut proof of specific knowledge by proffering evidence of an “informed good faith belief” that the patent is invalid, not infringed, or unenforceable (i.e. an opinion).  Thus, while no adverse inference of willfulness will be drawn in the absence of an opinion under the proposed changes, the defendant will still have the onus to provide an opinion in cases in which the plaintiff proves the defendant’s specific knowledge of infringement.

Finally, the legislation also proposes adding to the statute for increased damages the “factor” of prior litigation between the parties for substantially similar infringement.  Thus, in a later action between parties for colorably similar infringing conduct, willfulness may be based on the knowledge the infringer has maintained since the earlier litigation.< ?xml:namespace prefix ="" o />