Friday, January 07, 2005

Pro se plaintiff prevails in Lamle v. Mattel

The case is one of many "individual inventor vs. toy company" disputes over a submitted game. It involves a patent, but that is not significant to the outcome. In this decision, the pro se plaintiff obtains reversal of an adverse summary judgment, but one suspects an adverse result awaits the pro se plaintiff in the further proceedings. Judge Newman wrote a strong dissent.

Somewhat unusual is the CAFC making a decision about the Statute of Frauds, citing a state law case, Citizens for Compliance, 906 P2d 1314. In the case, we have an issue as to whether an email is "signed" for purposes of satisfying the Statute of Frauds. [The email was sent in 1997, before the adoption by California of the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act, which does contemplate that the email would be "signed."]

The CAFC noted that a license for intellectual property, including a license for a patent, is not a sale of goods, citing Novamedix 166 F3d 1177.

In an earlier CAFC decision, the CAFC had to remand because of an inadequate description by the district court of its grounds for the grant of summary judgment. The next time around, the district court basically used one liners. This problem is not limited to IP cases. Recently, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals issued a strong admonishment to district courts about not articulating adequate grounds in SJ decisions and instructed (future) aggrieved parties to cite that case to district courts.

The path of this case reminds me a bit of Nelson v. Adams. Therein, the defendant lost at the CAFC, in spite of some severe due process issues. Judge Newman strenuously dissented. The Supreme Court took the case, and voted 9-0 Judge Newman's way, with an interesting footnote about "Alice in Wonderland." Later on, the defendant lost anyway, as the Supreme Court implied would be the case. As in Pfaff, a party prevailed in showing a CAFC viewpoint* was wrong, but ended up losing later on. Here, one suspects this may be Lamle's last victory in his dispute with Mattel.

[*In Nelson v. Adams the CAFC was reversed. In Pfaff, the law of the CAFC (in UMC) was eliminated, but the decision is an affirmance, because the judgment was affirmed on grounds other than those articulated by the CAFC. Similarly, Judge Posner's decision in the Apotex case on paroxetine counts as an affirmance, even though no grounds of the district court decision were adopted by the CAFC. One wonders whether legal academics contemplate these nuances in their various analyses of patent decisions.]


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