McZeal v. Sprint Nextel (Fed. Cir. 2007).
McZeal’s pro se patent infringement complaint was dismissed for failure to state a claim. On appeal, the CAFC reversed – finding that the complaint was sufficient.
In particular, the court found that the complaint is not required to specifically describe where each element of the asserted claim is found in the accused device. Those specifics regarding infringement “is something to be determined through discovery.”
In its analysis, the court relied upon FRCP Form 16, which provides an acceptable patent infringement complaint that is quite short.
Form 16. Complaint for Infringement of Patent
1. Allegation of jurisdiction.
2. On May 16, 1934, United States Letters Patent No. ____ were duly and legally issued to plaintiff for an invention in an electric motor; and since that date plaintiff has been and still is the owner of those Letters Patent.
3. Defendant has for a long time past been and still is infringing those Letters Patent by making, selling, and using electric motors embodying the patented invention, and will continue to do so unless enjoined by this court.
4. Plaintiff has placed the required statutory notice on all electric motors manufactured and sold by him under said Letters Patent, and has given written notice to defendant of his said infringement. Wherefore plaintiff demands a preliminary and final injunction against continued infringement, an accounting for damages, and an assessment of interest and costs against defendant.
Although amended slightly the 1960’s the form was originally drafted in 1937. A minimally acceptable complaint thus has four requirements:
- Allegation of jurisdiction;
- Statement of patent ownership;
- Statement of patent infringement by the defendant; and
- Demand for relief.
The form also gives notice of notice of infringement through marking or otherwise. However, marking is only useful to increase damages.
Judge Dyk dissented (in part) — arguing that the Supreme Court’s recent Twombly (2007) decision raised the pleading requirements. That case requires more than formulaic recitation of “labels and conclusions.” Rather, the complaint must provide grounds for an entitlement of relief.
- Judge Dyk hopes for an updated version of Form 16 — any drafting volunteers?
- Read the case.
- The majority opinion might not apply to you — the court could easily later adopt Judge Dyk’s position for cases not involving a pro se plaintiff.
- Interestingly, the complaint was 90 pages long (quite long for a complaint), but said very little.