Federal Circuit affirms permanent injunction in face of prior license agreements

PatentlyO2006102_thumb1_1Acumed LLC v. Stryker Corp. (Fed. Cir. 2008)

In 2004, Acumed sued Stryker for infringing a patent covering an orthopedic nail used in reconstructing humerus fractures.  After a jury verdict of infringement, the district court ordered a permanent injunction. That pre-eBay ruling was subsequently vacated by the Federal Circuit because the lower court did not specifically consider the traditional four-factor test for injunctive relief. On remand, the district court again granted the permanent injunction.  That permanent injunction is affirmed here on appeal.

In eBay, the Supreme Court held that the traditional four factors of equitable relief must be considered before granting injunctive relief in a patent infringement case.  However, if a district court considers the requisite factors, the Federal Circuit will only vacate if they find an “abuse of discretion.” 

Irreparable Harm and Lack of Remedy at Law: The first two factors of (1) irreparable harm caused by continued infringement and (2) inadequate remedies available at law almost entirely overlap. The court easily considered those factors together. 

Acumed had previously licensed the patents to other manufacturers — perhaps indicating that money could be sufficient to compensate for the infringement. However, the district court distinguished the prior licenses based on the identities of the past licensees and Acumed’s more recent “experience in the market.”  The Federal Circuit found no abuse of discretion — noting that “[a] plaintiff’s past willingness to license its patent is not sufficient per se to establish lack of irreparable harm if a new infringer were licensed.” 

The Jury had awarded lost profit damages, and Acumed suggested that fact indicates that future harms would cause irreparable harm (or at least more than what would be compensated by a reasonable royalty).  On appeal, the Federal Circuit did not dispute (or explicitly affirm) this argument. However the court did note that “[t]he essential attribute of a patent grant is that it provides a right to exclude competitors from infringing the patent.”

Balance of Hardships: For the third factor – balancing the hardships – Stryker argued that its customers (who need their arms fixed) would suffer under an injunction. On appeal, the Federal Circuit rejected that argument as a matter of law — holding that the balancing factor “is only between a plaintiff and a defendant, and thus the effect on customers and patients alleged by Stryker is irrelevant.”  Under this construct of the balancing factor, the patentee will usually win — especially when applying the Windsurfing holding that “One who elects to build a business on a product found to infringe cannot be heard to complain if an injunction against continuing infringement destroys the business so elected.”

Public Interest: The patentee must show that the public interest is “not dissereved by an injunction.”  Here, Stryker argued that the Acumed product was lower quality and that the arm bone repair would lead to increased morbidity. The district court did not find that public health argument persuasive and the Federal Circuit agreed that “the court was within its discretion to conclude that the public interest was not disserved by an injunction.”

Permanent Injunction Affirmed


  • The Jury found the infringement “willful.” That fact was not discussed in the eBay analysis.
  • This case follows the conventional wisdom that the courts will continue to grant permanent injunctions against competitors who infringe.