By Jason Rantanen
Stryker Corp. v. Zimmer, Inc. (Fed. Cir. 2016) Download opinion
Panel: Prost (author), Newman, Hughes
Stryker prevailed in a patent infringement suit against Zimmer, obtaining partial summary judgment of infringement as to some claims, a jury verdict of infringement as to another claim, and a jury finding that the claims were valid. The jury awarded Striker $70 million in lost profits, further finding that Zimmer’s infringement was willful. In a post-trial order, the district judge awarded treble damages, found the case exceptional and awarded Stryker its attorneys’ fees.
On appeal, the Federal Circuit affirmed as to infringement, validity and damages. Applying In re Seagate, however, it reversed as to willful infringement and the enhancement of damages. Based on that reversal, it also vacated the award of treble damages and attorneys’ fees. Styrker sought, and obtained, review by the Supreme Court in a case that was consolidated with Halo Electronics., Inc. v. Pulse Electronics., Inc. In Halo v. Pulse, the Supreme Court held that the the Federal Circuit’s two-part Seagate “test for determining when a district court may increase damages pursuant to § 284” was not consistent with § 284. Both Halo and Stryker were remanded to the Federal Circuit for further proceedings. Last month, the Federal Circuit issued its revised opinion in Halo. Today, the court released the revised Stryker opinion.
Most of the new Stryker opinion involves a recitation of the Federal Circuit’s previous opinion affirming the district court as to infringement and validity. The last three pages, however, deal with the § 284 enhancement issue on remand. What’s interesting is that the Federal Circuit is maintaining its bifurcated approach to enhancement of damages, first requiring a predicate willfulness determination followed by the judge’s discretionary determination of whether and how much to enhance damages. This is essentially the same process as before. See i4i Ltd. Partnership v. Microsoft Corp., 598 F.3d 831 (2010). Pre-Halo, the second step of the process (the district judge’s determination of whether and how much to enhance damages) was a totality-of-the circumstances analysis that was reviewed for abuse of discretion (i.e.: basically the same as the court required in Halo). Id. The Federal Circuit’s post-Halo approach to enhancement involves the same two steps, with the exception that the willfulness determination itself is guided by the holding in Halo rather than requiring the two-element objective/subjective determination of Halo. (The enhancement determination is too, but it’s hard to see much difference there.) Under Halo, the subjective component alone can be enough to establish willfulness.
Here, Zimmer did not challenge the subjective component so the Federal Circuit affirmed willfulness on remand. However, it then remanded the case back to the district court for a further determination as to whether and how much damages should be enhanced. In Halo, this remand made sense, as the district judge had relied on the Seagate test to grant JMOL of no willful infringement over a jury verdict of willful infringement. Here, however, after the jury found willful infringement and the district judge denied JMOL of no willful infringement, the district judge exercised his discretion to treble damages. The consequence is that a remand in this case is somewhat odd given that the district judge has already made a discretionary determination to award the maximum amount of enhancement. In any event, the Federal Circuit decided that the better course of action was to ask the district judge to re-make the discretionary determination:
“As Halo makes clear, the decision to enhance damages is a discretionary one that the district court should make based on the circumstances of the case, ‘in light of the longstanding considerations . . . as having guided both Congress and the courts.’ Id. at 1934. Thus, it is for the district court to determine whether, in its discretion, enhancement is appropriate here. We therefore vacate the district court’s award of enhanced damages and remand to the district court so that it may exercise its discretion.”
Based on a similar rationale (although relying instead on Octane Fitness v. ICON), the Federal Circuit also remanded on the issue of attorney’s fees.
Disclosure: I co-authored an amicus brief in support of neither party in Halo v. Pulse.