The IP File’s mission is to scour the universe for compelling stories in intellectual property law. In the United States, there are four main types of intellectual property protection available: patents, copyrights, trademarks and trade secrets.
Through its recent decision in Stryker Corp. v. Zimmer, Inc., the Federal Circuit gave Zimmer an early Christmas gift worth approximately $140 million by reversing a district court’s determination of willfulness and vacating a corresponding award of trebled damages against Zimmer. The reversal was based on the Federal Circuit’s finding that the noninfringement and invalidity defenses raised by Zimmer were “not objectively unreasonable.”
By: Kollin J. Zimmermann
“Priority of use” is a key issue in any case involving a trademark ownership dispute. As the Ninth Circuit has explained, “To acquire ownership of a trademark it is not enough to have invented the mark first or even to have registered it first; the party claiming ownership must have been the first to actually use the mark in the sale of goods or services.” Brookfield Commc'ns, Inc. v. W. Coast Entm't Corp., 174 F.3d 1036, 1047 (9th Cir. 1999).
In its most recent decision in Ultramercial, Inc. v. Hulu, the Federal Circuit finally concluded that the claims-at-issue do not cover patent-eligible subject matter under 35 U.S.C. § 101. This comes after two prior decisions by the Federal Circuit reaching the opposite conclusion, and two orders from the U.S. Supreme Court instructing the Federal Circuit to reconsider those two decisions.
Co-owning any piece of property can lead to unwanted and unexpected headaches. And as demonstrated by the Federal Circuit in STC.UNM v. Intel Corp., Fed. Cir. No. 2013-1241, this is especially true with respect to co-ownership of patents. Here, the Federal Circuit held that STC lacked standing to bring its patent infringement lawsuit against Intel because Sandia Corp., a co-owner of the patent-in-suit, refused to voluntarily join the lawsuit, and could not be involuntarily joined under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 19(a).
In two related decisions, the Supreme Court relaxed the standard to award attorney’s fees under Section 285 of the Patent Act (“§285”) and ruled that decisions on §285 are entitled to deference on appeal. In the first case, the Court found that the Federal Circuit’s test for §285, as described in Brooks Furniture Mfg., Inc. v. Dutailier Int'l, Inc., 393 F.3d 1378, 1380 (Fed. Cir. 2005), is “unduly rigid” and inconsistent with the statutory language. Octane Fitness, LLC v. Icon Health & Fitness, Inc., 12-1184, Slip Op. at 7 (2014). The Court reasoned that the only constraint imposed by the text of §285 on a district court’s discretion to award attorney’s fees is that the case must be exceptional. Id. According to its ordinary meaning, the Court held, “an ‘exceptional’ case is simply one that stands out from others with respect to the substantive strength of a party’s litigating position . . . or the unreasonable manner in which the case was litigated.” Id. at 7-8. Further, district courts should consider the totality of the circumstances and make a case-by-case determination on §285 questions. Id. at 8. Finally, the Court held that the evidentiary burden for §285 is a preponderance of the evidence, not clear and convincing evidence as required by the Federal Circuit. Id. at 11.