SCA Hygiene Prods. V. First Quality Baby Prods. (Supreme Court. 2017)
In a 7-1 decision delivered by Justice Alito, the Supreme Court has expanded its recent copyright decision in Petrella to now hold that laches cannot be invoked as a defense in patent cases to prevent legal damages within the statutory 6-year limitations period of 35 U.S.C. § 286.
The basic idea is that Laches is a judge-made remedy created by the court of equity in the absence of any statute of limitations. However, when Congress acts to create a statute of limitations – as it did with §286 – the judge-made law no longer has a role to play.
Again playing on a decade-long-theme of no-patent-exceptionalism, the court wrote:
Indeed, it would be exceedingly unusual, if not unprecedented, if Congress chose to include in the Patent Act both a statute of limitations for damages and a laches provision applicable to a damages claim. Neither the Federal Circuit, nor First Quality, nor any of First Quality’s amici has identified a single federal statute that provides such dual protection against untimely claims.
Justice Breyer dissented – arguing that “for more than a century courts with virtual unanimity have applied laches in patent damages cases” in order to fill an important gap in the statutory regime.
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