Shaping Nuanced Patent Injunctions: Broadcom v. Qualcomm

Broadcom v. Qualcomm (Fed. Cir. 2008) [Part II]

On appeal, the Federal Circuit affirmed the permanent injunction against Qualcomm – finding that the district court acted within its equitable discretion and properly followed the injunctive relief guidelines set forth by the Supreme Court in eBay v. MercExchange (2006).

Although recognizing the importance of its eventual decision, the Federal Circuit again refrained from determining whether a finding that a patent has been infringed should serve as presumptive evidence of irreparable harm.

“It remains an open question ‘whether there remains a rebuttable presumption of irreparable harm following eBay.'” Quoting Amado (Fed. Cir. 2008)

Irreparable Harm: The patentee Broadcom is a non-practicing entity in the sense that it does not make or sell the invention claimed in the asserted patents. The patentee does, however, compete indirectly with Qualcomm by making an alternative chipset. Here, the Federal Circuit agreed that eBay does not allow a general rule that would prevent a non-practicing from obtaining injunctive relief and that in this Broadcom had been able to show the potential for irreparable harm.

“Broadcom provided evidence of irreparable harm, despite the fact that it does not currently practice the claimed inventions. This result is consistent with eBay, in which the Supreme Court cautioned that ‘traditional equitable principles do not permit such broad classifications’ as presuming that a patentee cannot establish irreparable harm based on a patentee’s ‘willingness to license its patents’ or ‘its commercial activity in practicing the patents.'”

Adequate Remedy at Law: Broadcom had licensed its patents Verizon. A license can theoretically show that monetary damages are adequate. However, the particular market situation is important for that determination. In this case the Verizon license is a vertical license while a license to Qualcomm would be a horizontal license. Thus, the court agreed that “the Verizon license has little bearing on the effect of a compulsory license to a direct competitor.”

Hardships and Public Interest: The district court created the injunction order with a “sunset provision.” Under the plan, Qualcomm may continue infringing for twenty-months while paying a compulsory license rate. At the end of those twenty months, the company will be enjoined from further infringement. The delayed nature of the injunction consequently removed any notion that the a balance of hardships or the public interest would favor the adjudged infringer because it gives plenty of time to redesign and redeploy to customers without any interruption of service.

This decision is insightful in how it moves the proper focus from whether an injunction should issue to the more nuanced issues of how to shape the injunction in a way that best serves the public interest while still protecting property rights. One problem with complex injunctions and ongoing compulsory licenses is that the district court must continue to monitor and make judgments on the situation. In this case the district court recently found Qualcomm in contempt for failing to pay its ongoing royalties of more than $93 million. As a sanction, the court ordered Qualcomm to pay gross profits – noting that “[w]hile an award of gross profit may overcompensate … it will do so in an amount which bears a direct relationship to the degree of infringement. The more that were sold, the greater the award.”


Read more about the case here.