The following post is by Bill Rooklidge. Rooklidge is a patent litigator and former head of the AIPLA. He clerked at the Federal Circuit in the early 1980’s.
Richard Cauley’s March 14, 2009 guest post accurately characterized the damages reform provision of the Patent Reform Act of 2009 as “a judicial nightmare” because of its procedural complications, attendant delay and reversal potential. Two additional problems with that provision merit note: it perpetuates prior art subtraction and introduces into jury trial multiple potential violations of the Seventh Amendment.
Fact-finding and the Seventh Amendment. The Supreme Court coined the term “gatekeeper” in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharm., Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993), to describe the trial court’s obligation to “ensure that any and all scientific testimony or evidence admitted is not only relevant, but reliable.” In addition to rulings on Daubert motions, courts also fulfill their gatekeeper role by ruling on motions for summary judgment and judgment as a matter of law, motions in limine, evidentiary objections, and jury instructions. The bills’ damages section would enhance the courts’ gatekeeper role, but in doing so unconstitutionally invade the jury’s province as fact finder.
The bills would add to 35 U.S.C. §284 paragraph (c)(1), which would require the court to select from three methods for calculating a reasonable royalty “based on the facts of the case and after adducing any further evidence the court deems necessary.” A procedural rule requiring the court to weigh evidence to select from alternate theories would be void for depriving the patentee of its right to jury trial. See Fidelity & Deposit Co. of Maryland v. United States, 187 U.S. 315, 320 (1902). A genuine issue of material fact, that is, a dispute over facts that might affect the outcome, requires the issue to go to the jury. See generally Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242 (1986). Similarly, the trial court’s exclusion of the entire market value rule under paragraph (c)(1)(A) for the patentee’s failure to make “a showing to the satisfaction of the court,” would violate the Seventh Amendment in a jury trial in which the patentee presents enough evidence to create a genuine issue of material fact. See Minks v. Polaris Indus., Inc., 546 F.3d 1364, 1372 (Fed. Cir. 2008) (vacating because trial “court necessarily engaged in an independent review of the evidence and substituted its conclusion for that of the jury on the factual issue of compensatory damages”).
The first section of the bills’ section (c)(1)(B) authorizes trial courts to exclude the patentee’s prior licenses for failure to make a “showing to the satisfaction of the court” of three facts regarding the claimant’s other licenses:
“the claimed invention has been the subject of a nonexclusive license for the use made by the invention by the infringer”;
the licenses have been extended “to a number of persons sufficient to indicate a generally marketplace recognition of the reasonableness of the licensing terms”; and
“the license was secured prior to the filing of the case before the court.”
The court also must determine whether the infringer’s use is “of substantially the same scope, volume, and benefit of the rights granted under such license. The second sentence of paragraph (c)(1)(B) requires a similar procedure for noninfringing substitutes for the infringing product or process. And paragraph (c)(1)(C) likewise requires the court to “conduct an analysis to ensure that a reasonable royalty is applied only the portion of the economic value of the infringing product or process properly attributable to the claimed invention’s specific contribution over the prior art.” A court making these findings would invade the province of the jury where the patentee presents substantial evidence on these issues.
Prior Art Subtraction. Section (c)(1)(A)’s requirement for application of the entire market value rule that the “claimed invention’s specific contribution over the prior art” be the “predominant basis for market demand” is just the latest form of “prior art subtraction.” Use of “specific contribution over the prior art” is an attempt to separate the “gist” or “heart” of the invention from the patent claims, and would introduce the extra step of subjectively redefining the scope of a patent. The Federal Circuit long ago rejected using the “gist” or “heart” of the invention to determine obviousness, see Para-Ordnance Mfg. v. SGS Importers Int’l, Inc., 73 F.3d 1085 (Fed. Cir. 1995), and recently rejected using the “point of novelty” in design patent law. Egyptian Goddess, Inc. v. Swisa, Inc., 543 F.3d 665, 678 (Fed. Cir. 2008). Stripping the prior art elements out of the claimed invention that has been examined by the USPTO, construed by the federal district court, and relied upon to determine validity and infringement, in no way approximates the “heart” or “gist” of the invention, and that inherently subjective process would be unfair to the patent owner, and would eliminate application of the entire market value to inventions consisting entirely of prior art elements, arguably the vast majority.
Paragraph (c)(1)(C) would limit the reasonable royalty base to the “economic value of the infringing product or process properly attributable to the claimed invention’s specific contribution over the prior art,” replacing apportionment with prior art subtraction. This analysis is no substitute for the sophisticated and nuanced apportionment approach available under existing case law such as Georgia-Pacific Corp. v. United States Plywood Corp., 318 F. Supp. 1116, 1133-37 (S.D.N.Y. 1970). Paragraph (c)(1)(C) would address the combination invention problem by stating that for combination inventions “the contribution over the prior art may include the value of the additional function resulting from the combination, as well as the enhanced value, if any, of some or all of the prior art elements as part of the combination, if the patentee demonstrates that value.” This analysis, which finds no precedent in existing case law and lacks any readily definable economic standards, does not even begin to address the problem that subtracting the prior art elements simply does not approximate what the inventor really invented.
Replacement of “contribution over the prior art” with the “essential features” language from the Supreme Court’s recent Quanta Computer, Inc. v. LG Electronics, Inc., 128 S. Ct. 2109 (2008), would just put another label on prior art subtraction. Regardless of label, the bills’ damages provision would drastically reduce patent owners’ ability to obtain reasonable royalty damages, which could not be less fair to those, like independent inventors, research institutions and universities, that have no ability to obtain lost profits damages.