Monday, 8 December 2008

Is nothing sacred? Defendant wins East Texas patent suit

Writing in Mass High Tech, patent litigator John Gutkoski (Foley & Lardner LLP) draws attention to a shift in US patent litigation that will be welcomed by all who truly believe that defendants in patent litigation should be given a sporting change. The article's title, "Patent verdicts in Eastern Texas no longer a slam dunk", gives the game away pretty quickly. The article explains:

"Plaintiffs have gravitated to these courts north and east of Houston, because the Eastern District has been providing plaintiffs some degree of certainty. Plaintiffs have come to expect several things, including a relatively short track to trial, the use of specific local patent rules, a no-nonsense policy toward discovery, and a low likelihood of cases being transferred out of the district. Most importantly, plaintiffs have relied on the reputation that its judges rarely grant defendants summary judgment and that its juries frequently decide in favor of plaintiffs. Indeed, until recently, no jury in the Eastern District had invalidated a plaintiff’s patent. This had the result of limiting defendants for practical purposes to non-infringement defenses and provoking many, often lucrative, settlements in plaintiffs’ favor.

Lately, however, this pro-plaintiff orientation has been proven not to be absolute. As a case in point, recently Palomar Medical Technologies Inc., a Burlington-based manufacturer of light-based cosmetic treatment devices, prevailed in a significant patent infringement lawsuit brought by its competitor, Wayland-based Candela Corp., in the Eastern District of Texas. ...

Furthermore, the jury found all of the asserted claims ... to be invalid. Specifically, the jury found them anticipated by one prior art reference and rendered obvious by four separate combinations of additional prior art. Following the trial, the jurors told counsel they had spent the bulk of their deliberations considering the prior art and the validity of plaintiffs’ patent.

Palomar’s victory is only the fourth time that an Eastern District jury has invalidated a patent. All four, however, have come in the past two years. Why are Eastern District juries now willing to consider and, more and more, accept invalidity defenses? Perhaps defendants are doing a better job of educating juries on their role in being the ultimate decision makers about the validity of patents. Perhaps, the less patent-friendly publicity of the past few years, as Congress debates patent reform and industry complains about the costs of patent litigation, has filtered down and is making an impression. Perhaps in the current economic climate, juries are taking a harder look at whether plaintiffs really should be entitled to significant recoveries. ...".

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