Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
by
Munchkin sued LNC for trademark infringement and unfair competition claims based on LNC’s spill-proof drinking containers. A year later, the court allowed Munchkin to amend the complaint to include new trademark infringement claims, trade dress infringement claims, and patent infringement claims based on the 993 patent which is directed to a spill-proof drinking container. While the litigation was ongoing, Munchkin voluntarily dismissed all of its non-patent claims with prejudice. Munchkin’s 993 patent was held unpatentable through an inter partes review initiated by LNC. The Federal Circuit affirmed that Patent Trial and Appeal Board decision; Munchkin then dismissed its patent infringement claims. The district court subsequently granted LNC’s motion for attorney’s fees under 35 U.S.C. 285 and 15 U.S.C. 1117(a), finding the case to be “exceptional” because the trademark and trade dress infringement claims were substantively weak, and Munchkin should have been aware of the substantive weakness of its patent’s validity. The Federal Circuit reversed. LNC’s fee motion insufficiently presented the required facts and analysis needed to establish that Munchkin’s patent, trademark, and trade dress infringement claims were so substantively meritless to render the case exceptional. None of those issues were fully adjudicated before the court on the merits; the district court abused its discretion in granting the motion. View "Munchkin, Inc. v. Luv n' Care, Ltd." on Justia Law

by
Almirall markets ACZONE®, a prescription medication used to treat acne. Almirall’s 926 and 219 patents are listed in the FDA Orange Book as claiming ACZONE. Before seeking approval to market a generic version of ACZONE, Amneal sought inter partes review (IPR), challenging claims of the patents. Amneal filed its Abbreviated New Drug Application with the FDA. Almirall sued, alleging infringement of only the 219 patent. Amneal counterclaimed that the 926 patent is invalid and is not infringed. Almirall offered to enter into a covenant-not-to-sue on the 926 patent upon the dismissal of the IPR. With the parties unable to reach a settlement, the underlying IPR on the 926 patent proceeded. The Patent Board found claims of the 926 patent not unpatentable. Amneal appealed but later moved to voluntarily dismiss its appeal. Almirall agreed to the dismissal but argued that Amneal litigated in an unreasonable manner by continuing to pursue the IPR after the covenant-not-to-sue was offered, and Almirall sought removal of the patent from the Orange Book. Almirall sought (35 U.S.C. 285) fees and costs incurred from the date settlement negotiations ended to the date of the IPR trial. The Federal Circuit denied the request. Even if section 285 is not limited to district court proceedings, the plain meaning of its reference to “[t]he court” speaks only to awarding fees incurred during, in close relation to, or as a direct result of, judicial proceedings, not to fees incurred for work in Patent Office proceedings before the court asserted jurisdiction. View "Amneal Pharmaceuticals LLC v. Almirall, LLC" on Justia Law

by
Hitkansut owns the patent, entitled “Methods and Apparatus for Stress Relief Using Multiple Energy Sources.” While the application that later issued as that patent was pending, Hitkansut entered into a non-disclosure agreement with Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and provided ORNL with a copy of the then-unpublished patent application. ORNL staff prepared research reports, received funding, authored publications, and received awards for research, based upon unauthorized use of the patent. Hitkansut sued ORNL, alleging infringement under 28 U.S.C. 1498. The Claims Court determined that certain claims of the patent were invalid but that other claims were valid and infringed. Although Hitkansut originally sought a royalty between $4.5-$5.6 million, based on a percentage of the research funding obtained by ORNL, the Claims Court awarded $200,000, plus interest, as the hypothetically negotiated cost of an up-front licensing fee. The Federal Circuit affirmed. Hitkansut then sought attorneys’ fees and expenses under 28 U.S.C. 1498(a). The Claims Court awarded $4,387,889.54.The Federal Circuit affirmed. Section 1498(a) provides for the award of attorneys’ fees under certain conditions, unless “the court finds that the position of the United States was substantially justified.” The “position of the United States” in this statutory provision refers to positions taken during litigation and does not encompass pre-litigation conduct by government actors, but the examples of conduct cited by the Claims Court demonstrate that the position of the United States was not substantially justified even under this narrow definition View "Hitkansut LLC v. United States" on Justia Law

by
Dragon sued 10 defendants, alleging patent infringement. Based on petitions by DISH and SXM (collectively, “DISH”), the Board instituted inter partes review (IPR) of the patent. The district court stayed proceedings as to DISH but proceeded as to the other defendants. After the court issued a claim construction order, Dragon, DISH, and the other defendants stipulated to noninfringement as to the accused products. The court entered judgment in favor of all defendants. In the parallel IPR, the Board issued a final decision holding unpatentable all asserted claims. DISH sought attorneys’ fees under 35 U.S.C. 285 and 28 U.S.C. 1927. Before the motions were resolved, Dragon appealed both the judgment of noninfringement and the Board’s decision. The Federal Circuit affirmed the Board’s decision and dismissed the district court appeal as moot. On remand, the district court vacated the judgment of noninfringement as moot but denied DISH’s motions for attorneys’ fees, holding that “success in a different forum is not a basis for attorneys’ fees” in the district court. The Federal Circuit vacated. The judgment of noninfringement was vacated only because DISH successfully invalidated the claims in parallel IPR proceedings, rendering moot Dragon’s infringement action. DISH’s success in obtaining a judgment of noninfringement, although later vacated because of its success in IPR, supports holding that they are prevailing parties. View "Dragon Intellectual Property LLC v. DISH Network LLC" on Justia Law

by
Attorney Ravin represented veteran Cook on a claim for past-due disability benefits. Their agreement provided for a contingent fee and contemplated that VA would withhold the fee from any past-due benefits awarded and pay that amount directly to Ravin under 38 U.S.C. 5904(d)(3). Within days of executing that agreement, Ravin sent a copy to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, where it was date-stamped on December 11, 2009. No copy of the agreement was submitted to the Regional Office (RO) “within 30 days of the date of execution,” as required by 38 C.F.R. 14.636(h)(4). The RO awarded Cook past-due benefits in April 2010. On April 13, 2010, the RO’s Attorney Fee Coordinator searched for any attorney fee agreement and determined that “no attorney fee decision is required” and “[a]ll retroactive benefits may be paid directly to the veteran.” The RO paid the past-due benefits to Cook. On April 27, 2010, Ravin mailed a copy of Cook’s direct-pay fee agreement to the RO. The RO informed Ravin that it had not withheld his attorney’s fees because the agreement was “not timely filed.” The Veterans Court and Federal Circuit affirmed the Board’s denial of Ravin’s claim. Section 5904(d)(3) does not mandate withholding and direct payment; 38 C.F.R. 14.636(h)(4)'s submission requirement is valid. Ravin’s fees have not been forfeited; he may use all available remedies to obtain them from Cook, per their agreement. View "Ravin v. Wilkie" on Justia Law

by
After licensing negotiations with Timney failed, Mossberg sued Timney for patent infringement. Instead of answering the complaint, Timney filed for inter partes reexamination. The district court granted a stay. The Patent Office rejected certain claims. Mossberg canceled the rejected claims and added new claims. Before the inter partes reexamination proceeded further, the Patent Office vacated its institution decision because Timney had not identified the real party in interest in its petition. In 2014-2015, Timney filed three ex parte reexamination requests. The examiner ultimately rejected all pending claims over prior art. The Patent Trial and Appeal Board affirmed. Throughout these reexaminations, the district court maintained the stay despite several motions by Mossberg to lift it. Mossberg filed a notice of voluntary dismissal under Rule 41(a)(1)(A)(i). The district court entered a docket text order stating that the case was dismissed without prejudice under Rule 41(a)(1)(A)(i). Timney moved to declare the case exceptional so that it could pursue attorney’s fees, 35 U.S.C. 285. The Federal Circuit affirmed the denial of the motion. Timney was not a “prevailing party” because a Rule 41 dismissal without prejudice is not a decision on the merits and thus cannot be a judicial declaration altering the legal relationship between the parties. View "O.F. Mossberg & Sons, Inc. v. Timney Triggers, LLC" on Justia Law

by
Keith sued its former employee, Butterfield, after he filed a patent application for what eventually issued as the 520 patent. The employer alleged that the patent was based on inventions made during Butterfield’s employment and sought declaratory judgments of noninfringement and invalidity; alleged breach of contract and misappropriation of trade secrets; and sought correction of inventorship. Butterfield later sent the employer a covenant not to sue and moved to dismiss in part, arguing that the covenant not to sue mooted the declaratory judgment claims and that the applicable statutes of limitation and the doctrine of laches barred the state-law claims. The court dismissed the declaratory judgment claims but allowed the state-law claims to proceed. The parties later filed a stipulation of dismissal with prejudice (Rule 41(a)(1)(A)(ii)), which required no court order. Days later, Butterfield moved for attorney’s fees under Fed. R. Civ. P. 54(d). In denying the motion, the court cited the 2017 Supreme Court decision, “Microsoft” and held that Rule 54 requires a judgment, “a decree and any order from which an appeal lies,” and that the parties’ stipulation to dismiss did not satisfy Rule 54’s judgment requirement because it was not an appealable order. The Federal Circuit vacated, holding that Microsoft did not apply. Judgment in the context of Rule 54 does not raise the same concerns about finality and piecemeal litigation that motivated the Microsoft opinion. View "Keith Manufacturing Co. v. Butterfield" on Justia Law

by
Fourstar, a federal prisoner, filed a Tucker Act Complaint with a Motion for Leave to Proceed In Forma Pauperis. He claimed that the government is mismanaging certain Indian properties and resources. The Claims Court denied his motion to proceed in forma pauperis, citing 28 U.S.C. 1915(g), which provides: In no event shall a prisoner bring a civil action or appeal ... under this section if the prisoner has, on 3 or more prior occasions, while incarcerated or detained in any facility, brought an action or appeal in a court of the United States that was dismissed on the grounds that it is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, unless the prisoner is under imminent danger of serious physical injury,” Prison Litigation Reform Act, 110 Stat. 1321. Fourstar did not pay the filing fee. The court dismissed his complaint. Fourstar was released from prison and later filed a Notice of Appeal. He later filed a statement that he was subsequently arrested and detained and unsuccessfully moved to proceed in forma pauperis on appeal. Because Fourstar was not a prisoner at the time of filing his appeal, section 1915 is not applicable. The Federal Circuit affirmed that the three-strikes rule was met by Fourstar’s litigation history and that Fourstar was not subject to the “imminent danger” exception. View "Fourstar v. United States" on Justia Law

by
Shealey served on active duty in Vietnam. He sought service connection for a cervical spine disability and major depressive disorder. The Board of Veterans’ Appeals held that Shealey was dishonorably discharged. Before Shealy filed his third motion for reconsideration, the Army Board for Correction of Military Records upgraded his discharge to “under honorable conditions.” The Board denied reconsideration. Shealey sought assistance from Veterans Legal Advocacy Group (VetLAG), a nonprofit law firm; VetLAG would not charge a fee and if the Veterans Court granted attorney’s fees, VetLAG could keep the full amount. Shealey agreed that VetLAG could apply for attorney’s fees and litigation expenses under the Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. 2412(d) (EAJA), and he would provide assistance. VetLAG represented Shealey before the Veterans Court for three months until a pre-briefing conference, where the government stated its intent to move for dismissal. The attorneys advised Shealey to file a new claim to reopen his case. Shealey disagreed, discharged them, and obtained new counsel. The court vacated the Board’s decision. The government did not dispute that Shealey was the “prevailing party” and did not oppose VetLAG's EAJA motion seeking $4,061.60. Shealey opposed the application. The court determined that VetLAG lacked standing. The Federal Circuit affirmed. Under EAJA’s plain text, the attorneys lack any substantive rights sufficient to confer standing. Affording standing to the attorneys over Shealey’s objections would contravene the policies on which the third-party standing doctrine is based. The fee agreement did not constitute an assignment. View "Shealey v. Wilkie" on Justia Law

by
IV alleged infringement of patents directed to filtering data files (such as email messages) based on content. The court severed the defendants. During claim construction in the Symantec action, IV’s expert consistently opined that a “characteristic” as used in asserted claims is “an attribute of the document such as whether it contains a virus or is SPAM or bulk email or includes copyrighted content.” The court adopted that construction. At the Symantec trial, IV’s expert changed his opinion, testifying that bulk email was not a characteristic. During a clarification hearing, IV’s counsel maintained that the expert had not changed his opinion and that bulk email “never was” within the scope of claim 9. The court clarified its claim constructions, stating that it “learn[ed] only at the last minute” that IV understood the construction to mean “that bulk email was excluded from claim 9 when it was clearly in the other claims ... a surprise inconsistent with the representations from” IV, and not what was intended. The court granted Micro judgment in part, holding the asserted claims invalid, canceled the Micro trial, and concluded that IV’s conduct was exceptional “solely with respect to” the changed testimony but that the case overall was not exceptional under 35 U.S.C. 285 and awarded Micro $444,051.14 in attorney fees. The Federal Circuit vacated. The district court should have determined whether the circumstances surrounding the expert’s changed opinion were such that, when considered as part of the totality of circumstances, the case stands out as exceptional, i.e., the case stands out among others with respect to the substantive strength of a party’s litigating position or the unreasonable manner in which the case was litigated. View "Intellectual Ventures I LLC v. Trend Micro Inc." on Justia Law