Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Seagate refined in Bard v. Gore

In Bard v. Gore , the CAFC determined that the -- objective recklessness -- prong of Seagate is to be decided by the judge.

The court today reaffirms its opinion issued on February 10, 2012, except for section E and that portion of section F relating to Section 284 and 285 of Title 35 of the United States Code allowing for enhanced damages and attorneys’ fees.1 The court vacates section E and the limited portion of section F relating to its prior discussion of willfulness. The briefs related to the petition for re- hearing present this court with a new question regarding the nature of the objective inquiry from In re Seagate Technology, LLC (“Seagate”), 497 F.3d 1360 (Fed. Cir. 2007) (en banc). The court agrees that the trial court failed to address the objective prong of willfulness as a separate legal test from Seagate’s subjective component. The court now holds that the threshold objective prong of the willfulness standard enunciated in Seagate is a question of law based on underlying mixed questions of law and fact and is subject to de novo review. The court remands the issue of willfulness so that the trial court may reconsider its denial of JMOL of no willful infringement in view of this holding. If the court grants the JMOL, it should then reconsider its decisions on enhanced damages and attorneys’ fees.

The CAFC noted:

When a defense or noninfringement theory asserted by an infringer is purely legal (e.g., claim construction), the objective recklessness of such a theory is a purely legal question to be determined by the judge. See Powell, 663 F.3d at 1236. When the objective prong turns on fact questions, as related, for example, to anticipation, or on legal questions dependent on the underlying facts, as related, for example, to questions of obviousness, the judge remains the final arbiter of whether the defense was reasonable, even when the underlying fact question is sent to a jury. See Powell, 663 F.3d at 1236-37; DePuy Spine, Inc. v. Medtronic Sofamor Danek, Inc., 567 F.3d 1314, 1324 (Fed. Cir. 2009) (explaining that ensnarement has underlying factual issues but is ultimately a question of law for the judge that is “‘to be determined by the court, either on a pretrial motion for partial summary judgment or on a motion for judgment as a matter of law at the close of the evidence and after the jury verdict’” (quoting Warner-Jenkinson Co., Inc. v. Hilton Davis Chem. Co., 520 U.S. 17, 39 n.8 (1997))).

Judge Newman dissented from the partial remand:

When these aspects are considered, it is apparent that willful infringement is not supportable. However, if the court insists on retrial of willfulness, the appealed issues of validity and inventorship are relevant, for if Cooper has sole or joint inventorship rights or the right to use his prior information, the question of infringement evaporates, mooting any question issue of willfulness.


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