Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
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B.E. sued Facebook for infringement of B.E.’s 314 patent. Approximately a year into the case, Facebook and two other parties B.E. had accused of infringement, Microsoft and Google, filed petitions for inter partes review of the asserted claims. The district court stayed its proceedings. The Patent Board instituted review and held the claims unpatentable. The Federal Circuit affirmed. Facebook then moved in the district court for a dismissal with prejudice and costs under Rule 54(d). B.E. agreed that dismissal was appropriate but argued that the claims should be dismissed for mootness, rather than with prejudice. The district court agreed with B.E., issuing an Order holding that, in light of the cancellation of claims, B.E. no longer had a basis for the lawsuit. The court ultimately awarded costs under Rule 54(d). The Clerk of Court held a hearing and taxed $4,424.20 in costs against B.E.; the court affirmed, holding that, although the case was dismissed for mootness, Facebook “obtained the outcome it sought: rebuffing B.E.’s attempt to alter the parties’ legal relationship.” The Federal Circuit affirmed, finding Facebook to be the prevailing party in B.E.’s lawsuit. View "B.E. Technology, L.L.C. v. Facebook, Inc." on Justia Law

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Uniclass and ATEN make and sell switch systems that allow a user to control multiple computers from a single keyboard, video device, and mouse. ATEN sued Uniclass and the customer defendants alleging infringement of its 141 and 289 patents. A jury found that Uniclass did not infringe the asserted claims and that the asserted claims of the 141 patent were invalid as anticipated (35 U.S.C. 102) without specifying which reference was the basis for its finding. The Federal Circuit reversed as to invalidity and affirmed as to infringement. The court affirmed the denial of Uniclass’s motion to declare the case exceptional under 35 U.S.C. 285. Uniclass argued that ATEN did not conduct an adequate pre-filing investigation, unnecessarily increased the costs of claim construction, drastically increased discovery costs by frequently changing counsel and infringement positions, and engaged in unreasonable litigation behavior requiring additional motion practice and leading to an expensive and disproportionate trial. The court noted that note that ATEN’s primary argument on appeal—that the court improperly gave claim construction disputes to the jury—was rejected because ATEN did not timely raise the issue below and found that ATEN’s positions were not so objectively unreasonable or exceptionally meritless as to stand out from other cases. View "ATEN International Co., Ltd. v. Uniclass Technology Co., Ltd." on Justia Law

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Westech sued 3M in the Western District of Washington, alleging infringement. 3M moved to dismiss the original and amended complaints. While 3M’s motion was pending, the Supreme Court decided, in TC Heartland, that under the patent venue statute, 28 U.S.C. 1400(b), a corporation “resides” only in its state of incorporation. 3M amended its motion to argue improper venue. Westech sought to amend its complaint and argued that the presence of sales representatives and 3M’s sales in Washington supported venue and that 3M had a “principal place of business” and other business locations at various Washington addresses. At the time of the original complaint, 3M did not own, lease, use, or maintain property at any of the specified locations, and, at the time of the motion did not occupy any of the locations. The district court denied 3M’s motion without prejudice and allowed Westech amend its complaint. In the interim, the Federal Circuit held that section 1400(b) requires a defendant to have a physical place in the district that serves as a regular and established place of business. The district court then dismissed the case. On appeal, 3M sought attorneys’ fees and double costs, arguing that Westech’s appeal was frivolous. The Federal Circuit affirmed the dismissal but denied the motion for fees and costs. Westech’s behavior on appeal bordered on sanctionable, but Westech pursued the appeal when the question of who shoulders the burden of establishing proper venue was unanswered. View "Westech Aerosol Corp. v. 3M Co." on Justia Law

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ThermoLife, the exclusive licensee of four Stanford University patents, claiming methods and compositions involving the amino acids arginine and lysine, to be ingested to enhance vascular function and physical performance, filed an infringement suit against several defendants. Stanford was a co-plaintiff. A bench trial was held and the district court found all asserted claims invalid and later granted defendants’ motions for attorney’s fees under 35 U.S.C. 285, which authorizes an award to a prevailing party in “exceptional” cases. The court found the cases exceptional, not based on an assessment of the validity position taken by plaintiffs or how they litigated but on its conclusion that plaintiffs were unjustified in alleging infringement in the first place, having failed to do an adequate pre-filing investigation. The Federal Circuit affirmed. These are unusual cases in that the basis for the fee award had nothing to do with the only issues litigated to reach the merits judgment: Infringement had not been adjudicated and even discovery on infringement had been postponed so that validity could be litigated first. Nevertheless, there was no abuse of discretion in the district court’s determination of exceptionality based on plaintiffs’ inadequate pre-suit investigation of infringement. View "ThermoLife International, LLC v. GNC Corp." on Justia Law

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Hamilton had been employed by the EEOC for 20 years, with no disciplinary problems, until one day in 2016, when, while engaged in mediation, he suddenly began using racial epithets, engaging in physical violence, and refusing to follow orders. The EEOC removed him from federal service. The union filed a grievance, which led to arbitration. During a hearing, the EEOC called 11 witnesses; the union called Hamilton. Although the arbitrator found that certain aspects of the EEOC’s case had not been proved, he credited the testimony of EEOC witnesses to conclude that Hamilton “had a major physical and/or mental breakdown.” Because Hamilton denied taking any of the actions he was charged with, the arbitrator concluded that Hamilton “did not remember.” The arbitrator found that the EEOC had not shown that Hamilton’s behavior had any negative effect on its reputation and had failed to consider that Hamilton’s behavior “was caused by his obvious medical condition,” and set aside Hamilton’s removal, awarding back pay. The arbitrator denied the union’s request for arbitration costs and attorney fees. The Federal Circuit vacated the denial of attorneys’ fees; 5 U.S.C. 7701(g) provides that an adjudicator may require an agency to pay the employee’s reasonable attorney fees if the employee is the prevailing party and the adjudicator determines that payment by the agency “is warranted in the interest of justice.” On remand, the arbitrator must reconsider the issue and include a statement of reasons. View "AFGE Local 3599 v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission" on Justia Law

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The Katten law firm signed an engagement letter with Bausch & Lomb, a corporate affiliate of Valeant, that broadly defined Katten’s client as any Valeant entity. Attorneys Mukerjee and Soderstrom represented Mylan during various stages of proceedings in which Valeant was adverse, first, as Alston & Bird attorneys, but later, as Katten attorneys. Valeant and others moved to disqualify Katten as counsel for Mylan in three pending appeals concerning patents and trademarks. The Federal Circuit granted those motions. Katten has an ongoing attorney-client relationship with Valeant and its subsidiaries, so Katten’s representation of Mylan in these appeals presents concurrent conflicts of interest in violation of Rule 1.7(a) of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct. View "Dr. Falk Pharma GMBH v. Generico, LLC" on Justia Law

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PDIC’s patent allegedly covers encoding digital images in the JPEG format. PDIC licensed the patent to Adobe, promising not to sue Adobe or Adobe’s customers for claims arising “in whole or part owing to an Adobe Licensed Product.” PDIC sued Adobe customers, alleging that encoding JPEG images on the customers’ websites infringed its patent. Adobe was allowed to intervene to defend nine customers, asserting that PDIC breached its license agreement. PDIC dismissed the actions in which Adobe had intervened. Adobe unsuccessfully sought "exceptional case" attorneys’ fees, 35 U.S.C. 285, and FRCP 11 sanctions. The court concluded that it could not determine the prevailing party nor "say that PDIC’s pre-suit investigation was inadequate or that any filing was made for any improper purpose.” The court denied in part PDIC’s motion for summary judgment, finding that a reasonable juror could find "that PDIC’s infringement allegations . . . cover the use of Adobe products,” and violated the agreement; it held that Adobe could only collect fees incurred in defending its customers in suits that violated the agreement but could not recover fees incurred in the affirmative breach-of-contract suit. After failed attempts to identify "purely defense fees,” Adobe requested judgment in favor of PDIC. The court reiterated “that there are purely defensive damages that can be proven,” but entered the judgment. The Federal Circuit dismissed an appeal for lack of jurisdiction. There was no final ruling barring recovery on Adobe’s breach claim. Under New Jersey law, actual damages are not a required element of a breach of contract claim. View "Princeton Digital Image Corp. v. Office Depot Inc." on Justia Law

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Spineology’s patent describes an “expandable reamer” for use in orthopedic surgery. Wright manufactures a reamer known as the X-REAM®. In 2015, Spineology sued Wright, alleging the X-REAM® infringes its patent. The district court refused to adopt either party’s construction of the term “body” but construed “body” consistent with Wright’s noninfringement position and granted Wright summary judgment. Wright then sought attorney fees, 35 U.S.C. 285, arguing Spineology’s proposed construction of “body,” its damages theories, and its litigation conduct rendered the case “exceptional.” The Federal Circuit affirmed the denial of the motion. While ultimately the court rejected Spineology’s proposed construction, the attempt was not so meritless as to render the case exceptional. The court determined “the arguments made by Spineology to support its damages theory . . . are not so meritless as to render the case exceptional” and “[n]othing about this case stands out from others with respect to the substantive strength of Spineology’s litigating position or the manner in which the case was litigated.” View "Spineology, Inc. v. Wright Medical Technology Inc." on Justia Law

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AlphaCap, a non-capitalized non-practicing entity, hired Gutride on a contingency basis and sued 10 internet crowdfunding companies for patent infringement. Nine defendants settled for less than $50,000 each, leaving only Gust. After the litigation ended, the district court awarded Gust $492,420 in fees and $15,923 in costs under 28 U.S.C. 1927, concluding that the case was “exceptional” because AlphaCap had “clear notice" that its patents could not survive scrutiny under 35 U.S.C. 101. The court found the claims were directed to crowdfunding, a fundamental economic concept and an abstract idea, and did not include an inventive concept sufficient to render the abstract ideas patent eligible under “Alice.” The court reasoned that AlphaCap brought the case “to extract a nuisance settlement,” as confirmed by the nine other “paltry settlements” and AlphaCap’s decision to file in a distant venue. Gutride’s contested its joint and several liability for the fees. The Federal Circuit reversed, noting the “unbroken band of cases” excluding baseless filing of a complaint from supporting a section 1927 award. In addition, AlphaCap’s position on patent eligibility was colorable, given the relative paucity of section 101 cases. The district court had no basis to find that Gutride knew that the patents were invalid. While acknowledging concerns about AlphaCap’s “business model,” the court held that the fact that 10 suits were filed and the opposition to a transfer of venue did not establish bad faith. View "Gust, Inc. v. AlphaCap Ventures LLC" on Justia Law

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Eight of Rembrandt’s at-issue patents address cable modem technology; the ninth involves over-the-air signals. Rembrandt filed multiple infringement suits against dozens of cable companies, cable equipment manufacturers, and broadcast networks. The cases were consolidated. After several years of litigation, the court entered final judgment against Rembrandt on all claims. Many of the defendants sought attorney fees under 35 U.S.C. 285. Nearly four years after the litigation ended, the court issued a brief order granting that motion, declaring the case exceptional, and granting the bulk of the requests for fees, including nearly all of the attorney fees incurred in the litigation: more than $51 million. The Federal Circuit affirmed the exceptional case designation but remanded, finding that the court erred by failing to analyze fully the connection between the fees awarded and Rembrandt’s misconduct. While the court’s findings that that Rembrandt: wrongfully gave fact witnesses payments contingent on the outcome of the litigation; engaged in, or failed to prevent, widespread document spoliation; and should have known that the revived patents were unenforceable, were “remarkably terse” and “shed little light on its justifications” none of those findings was based “on an erroneous view of the law or on a clearly erroneous assessment of the evidence. View "In re Rembrandt Technologies, LP Patent Litigation" on Justia Law