Willowood, LLC v. Syngenta Crop Protection, LLC, Docket No. 19-1147 (Supreme Court 2020)
Syngenta sued Willowood for both patent and copyright infringement associated with its generic fungicide compound. Willowood won at the district court, but that holding was overturned on appeal. Now Willowood is bringing it to the Supreme Court.
The copyright claim: Syngenta product “labels” have many pages of small-type that were registered with the US Copyright office. Willowood apparently copied the labels for its competing generic product. Because the fungicides are dangerous chemicals, these labels are required in order to sell the product.
The district court dismissed the copyright claims — holding that the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (“FIFRA”) precludes the copyright claim because FIFRA requires a generic product to use “identical or substantially similar” labels that are typically mandated by EPA regulations. On appeal, the Federal Circuit vacated — holding that statute does not allow thoughtless copying since “the text of FIFRA does not, on its face, require a me-too registrant to copy the label of a registered product.” Rather, according to the court, the court must look at each copyrightable element of Syngenta’s label and consider whether that portion is “necessary” for the generic approval process.
In its petition for certiorari, Willowood asks for a blanket rule:
Whether, by requiring the EPA to grant expedited review and approval of labels for generic pesticides that are “identical or substantially similar” to the previously approved labels for the same product, Congress intended to preclude claims of copyright infringement with respect to generic pesticide labels.
Question presented in Petition for Certiorari. This portion of the case could be a nice companion case to Google v. Oracle if certiorari is granted there.
The Patent Claims: A portion of the infringement case turned on the court’s interpretation of 35 U.S.C. 271(g).
(g) Whoever without authority imports into the United States … a product which is made by a process patented in the United States shall be liable as an infringer, if the importation, offer to sell, sale, or use of the product occurs during the term of such process patent.
The district court ruled found no infringement because the product was purchased from a separate entity and that the single-infringer-rule requires “every step of a claimed process to be performed or attributable to a single entity.”
On appeal, the Federal Circuit also rejected this statement of the law — holding that importation is the act of infringement under 271(g) (or sale/offer). The statute does not require that the accused infringer be the one performed the method.
This [statutory] language makes clear that the acts that give rise to liability under § 271(g) are the importation, offer for sale, sale, or use within this country of a product that was made by a process patented in the United States. Nothing in this statutory language suggests that liability arises from practicing the patented process abroad. Rather, the focus is only on acts with respect to products resulting from the patented process. Thus, because the statutory language as a whole is clear that practicing a patented process abroad cannot create liability under § 271(g), whether that process is practiced by a single entity is immaterial to the infringement analysis under that section.
Syngenta Crop Protec., LLC v. Willowood, LLC, 944 F.3d 1344, 1359–60 (Fed. Cir. 2019). In its petitition, Willowood asks that the Supreme Court step-in here as well:
Whether liability for patent infringement under 35 U.S.C. § 271(g) requires that all steps of a patented process must be practiced by, or at least attributable to, a single entity, a requirement that the Supreme Court previously recognized is a prerequisite for infringement under 35 U.S.C. §§ 271(a) and (b) in Limelight Networks Inc. v. Akamai Technologies Inc.