Nuance Communications v. Abbyy Software

By Jason Rantanen

Cases involving foreign parties often raise complex procedural issues.  In this case, two of the defendants – a Russian corporation and a Cypriot corproration – argued that the district court lacked personal jurisdiction and that the plaintiff's attempts at service were insufficient.

Nuance Communications, Inc. v. Abbyy Software House (Fed. Cir. 2010)
Panel: Rader (author) Newman, Prost

In 2008, Nuance Communications sued Abbyy USA Software House, Abbyy Production, and Abbyy Software for patent infringement.  Abbyy Production, a corporation organized under the laws of the Russian Federation, and Abbyy Software, a Cypriot corporation, filed a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and improper service of process.  In a short order, the district court granted the motion and declined to consider Nuance's request for jurisdictional discovery by not addressing that issue.

On appeal, the Federal Circuit reversed the district court's ruling.  On the question of personal jurisdiction, the panel first noted that because this is a patent case, Federal Circuit precedent applies rather than that of the regional circuit.  The overarching analysis, however, focused on the traditional "minimum contacts" approach: "whether the defendant purposefully established 'minimum contacts' in the forum state."  Because the question in this case was one of specific jurisdiction, it thus required examining:

(1) whether the defendant purposefully directed activities at residents of the forum; (2) whether the claim arises out of or relates to those activities; and (3) whether assertion of personal jurisdiction is reasonable and fair.

Slip. Op. at 8.  Applying this test, the majority concluded that the district court had erred in dismissing Abbyy Production and Abbyy Software.  With respect to Abbyy Production, the appellate court noted that the defendant had engaged in a variety of activities directed at California, including its distribution of the allegedly infringing software to Abbyy USA, a California entity.  These activities also satisfied the second prong, as Nuance alleged in its Complaint that Abbyy Production's importation of the software into California infringed and induced infringement of the patents-in-suit.  The panel further found that the third prong was met, noting that even beyond the fact that Abbyy Production purposefully targeted activities at the forum state, it and Abbyy USA operated under a shared management team and were represented by the same counsel.

The panel declined to conduct a similar analysis for Abbyy Software, concluding that the extent of its involvement in sales of the accused product was uncertain on the facts before the court.  Consequently, the court remanded for additional jurisdictional discovery.

The Federal Circuit also reversed the dismissal based on improper service of process.  After a lengthy discussion of the applicability of Hague Convention procedures to service of process on corporations in the Russian Federation, the panel declined to opine on whether personal service on corporations was permissible in this case.  Rather, the court held that permitting substituted service under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(f)(3) was called for here, and service on Abbyy USA would be sufficient to satisfy constitutional notions of due process for service on Abbyy Production. 

Note: The panel also reversed the district court's sua sponte dismissal of Abbyy Software for improper service of process, noting that the court lacked authority to do so because Abbyy Software had waived the objection.

One thought on “Nuance Communications v. Abbyy Software

  1. 1

    Abbyy Russia and Abbyy Republic of Cyprus were using its California based Abbyy USA to sell its optical character recognition (OCR) software in California. Abbyy Republic of Cyprus was pulling the strings. Nuance has a bunch of optical character recognition software patents, and you can guess where that headed. Nuance wanted to discover what Abbyy Russia and Abbyy Cyprus knew, so Nuance tacked them onto the patent lawsuit already pending against Abbyy USA and sent out discovery. Naturally, Abbyy Russia and Abbyy Cyprus objected.

    * Jurisdiction: The Fed. Circuit ruled that Nuance could further poke around into Abbyy Russia and Abbyy Cyprus’ business via jurisdictional discovery to determine whether personal jurisdiction over them was warranted.

    * Service: Under Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(f)(3), federal courts have discretionary authority to direct service “by other means not prohibited by international agreements” and the Fed. Circuit remanded to allow the lower court to come up with a way to allow alternate service as it deems appropriate, including at least substitute service.

    * Patent related comment: It seem somewhat surprising that a patentee can use the discovery power of the court to poke around a foreign based business via “jurisdictional discovery” if no personal jurisdiction over the foreign based business has been established.

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