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Supreme Court Kills Laches Defense for Patent Infringement

On March 21, 2017 the Supreme Court issued an opinion that abrogated the equitable defense of laches, for unreasonable and prejudicial delay in filing suit, in patent cases. SCA Hygiene Prod. Aktiebolag v. First Quality Baby Prod., LLC, No. 15-927, 2017 WL 1050978 (U.S. Mar. 21, 2017). In that case, Appellant SCA Hygiene argued that the Supreme Court’s 2014 Petrella decision, which conclusively eliminated laches as a defense in copyright cases, also mandated the elimination of laches as a defense to patent infringement. The Supreme Court agreed, reversing the Federal Circuit’s holding of unenforceability due to laches, and remanding for trial on infringement and Appellee First Quality’s equitable estoppel defense.

Laches As a Defense to Patent Damages Survives – For Now

In last week’s 6-5 decision in SCA Hygiene Prod. v. First Quality Baby Prod., LLC, No. 2013-1564, 2015 WL 5474261 (Fed. Cir. Sept. 18, 2015), the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, sitting en banc, reaffirmed that laches remains a viable defense in patent infringement lawsuits. The decision was reached despite the relatively recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Petrella v. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc., 134 S.Ct. 1962 (2014), where the high court struck laches as an available copyright infringement defense. However, the Federal Circuit’s sharp divide on this issue suggests that further review by the U.S. Supreme Court may be on its way.